After almost two years since it was initiated, closing arguments were made last month in a federal court case that is challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) interpretation of its authority to issue total maximum daily load (TMDL) regulations for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment for the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed.

EPA’s TMDL regulations set nutrient runoff allocations and require states to meet these limits in two-year milestones.  Supplemental briefs were filed today by both sides in response to the judge’s request for information about whether the court should defer to EPA’s interpretation of its authority.  As in many cases like this one, the issue of deference to a government agency is key to the final outcome.

Challenging EPA in the case is the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), and co-plantiffs National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, National Pork Producers Council, the Fertilizer Institute, and National Corn Growers Association.  Joining EPA in the case are the Chesapeake  Bay Foundation, several other environmental groups, and certain municipal wastewater authorities.

Attorneys for the groups challenging EPA highlighted three main points in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.  These points are that the Chesapeake Bay TMDL regulations greatly exceed the scope of the Clean Water Act of 1972 by assigning pollutant loading allocations among individual sources; EPA’s science is not sound and is further flawed by a regulatory process that lacks transparency; and EPA’s TMDL action was implemented without adequate time and information for the affected parties to comply under the Administration Procedures Act.AFBF argued in court that states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are authorized by law to determine the best method to achieve water quality goals.  Allowing EPA to have this authority is contrary to the Act.

The judge in the case Sylvia Rambo indicated the arguments are complex and sufficient time will be needed to study the issues raised and the responses to her many questions.  Judge Rambo’s decision is not likely until next year.  Whatever the court’s decision, both sides have already indicated an appeal will be filed if the decision goes against their position.