Natl Pork Producers v. EPA

Court Case Details
Court Case Opinion

REVISED MARCH 29, 2011

IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

United States Court of Appeals

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Fifth Circuit

F I L E D

March 15, 2011

Lyle W. Cayce

No. 08-61093

Clerk

NATIONAL PORK PRODUCERS COUNCIL; AMERICAN FARM BUREAU
FEDERATION; OKLAHOMA PORK COUNCIL; UNITED EGG
PRODUCERS; NORTH CAROLINA PORK COUNCIL; NATIONAL
CHICKEN COUNCIL; U.S. POULTRY & EGG ASSOCIATION; DAIRY
BUSINESS ASSOCIATION INC; NATIONAL MILK PRODUCERS
FEDERATION,

Petitioners

v.

UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY,

Respondent

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC; SIERRA CLUB;
WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE ,

Intervenors

Transferred from the

Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation

Before BARKSDALE, STEWART, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

CARL E. STEWART, Circuit Judge:

In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised its

regulations, implementing the Clean Water Act’s (CWA or the Act) oversight of

No. 08-61093

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Several parties challenged

the 2003 revisions (hereinafter the 2003 Rule), and the Second Circuit reviewed

the challenges in Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency,

399 F.3d 486 (2d Cir. 2005). In 2008, the EPA, responding to Waterkeeper,

revised its regulations (hereinafter the 2008 Rule or the Rule). Subsequently,

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the Farm Petitioners jointly with the Poultry Petitioners filed petitions for

review of the 2008 Rule with this court and the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth,

and D.C. Circuits. Shortly after the issuance of the 2008 Rule, the EPA sent

guidance letters to members of Congress and to a CAFO executive (hereinafter

the EPA Letters or guidance letters). The Poultry Petitioners filed a petition for

review in this Circuit, challenging the EPA’s procedures for issuing rules that

the Poultry Petitioners allege were final. These petitions for review were

consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multi-district Litigation (JPML), pursuant

to 28 U.S.C. § 2112(a)(3), and this court was randomly selected to review the

3

parties’ challenges. Subsequently, the Environmental Intervenors filed a

motion to intervene in support of the EPA’s position. Also, the EPA filed a

motion to dismiss the Poultry Petitioners’ challenges to the guidance letters. We

GRANT the petitions in part, DENY the petitions in part, and GRANT the EPA’s

motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

1

The “Farm Petitioners” are the National Pork Producers Council, American Farm

Bureau Federation, United Egg Producers, North Carolina Pork Council, National Milk
Producers Federation, Dairy Business Association, Inc., Oklahoma Pork Council, National
Chicken Council, and U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

2

The “Poultry Petitioners” are the National Chicken Council, and U.S. Poultry & Egg

Association. Although these parties are also “Farm Petitioners,” the arguments made in the
Poultry Petitioners’ brief apply only to them and not the other Farm Petitioners.

3

The “Environmental Intervenors” are the Natural Resource Defense Council, Sierra

Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

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No. 08-61093

At issue here is the EPA’s regulation of animal feeding operations (AFOs).

AFOs are facilities that house, raise, and feed animals until they are ready for

transport to processing facilities that prepare meat for shipment and, eventually,

consumption. Because these facilities house hundreds and sometimes thousands

of animals in confined spaces, they produce millions of tons of animal manure

4

every year. The management of this manure involves the collection, storage,

5

and eventual use of the manure’s nutrients as fertilizer. Following its

collection, the manure is typically transported to an on-farm storage or

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treatment system. Treated manure effluent or dry litter (chicken waste) is

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typically applied to cropland as fertilizer. This fertilizing process is called land

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application.

Because the improper management of this waste can pose a significant

hazard to the environment, the EPA focuses much of its attention on regulating

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certain AFOs that meet the EPA’s definition of a CAFO. According to EPA

regulations, CAFOs are facilities where “[a]nimals . . . have been, are, or will be

stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any

12-month period . . . .” 40 C.F.R. § 122.23(b)(1)(i). Our analysis of the

4

Sara R. Reichenauer, Issuing Violations Without Tangible Evidence: Computer

Modeling for Clean Water Act Enforcement, 95 I

L.

R

. 1011, 1019 (2010).

OW A

EV

5

Thomas R. Head, III, Local Regulation of Animal Feeding Operations: Concerns,

Limits, and Options for Southeastern States, 6 E

.

L

. 503, 515 (Feb. 2000) (“In

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particular, animal waste must be stored while awaiting disposal. Waste typically is stored in
large open-air tanks or anaerobic lagoons, which can be used to treat as well as store waste.”).

6

Id.

7

Id.

at 515–16.

8

Id.

at 516.

9

Reichenauer, 95 I

L.

R

. at 1019–20 (“Data suggests that agriculture is the most

OW A

EV

harmful source to our nation’s waters, causing the EPA to focus much of its attention on
agriculture entities, specifically CAFOs and potential CAFOs.”).

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No. 08-61093

petitioners’ challenges to the 2008 Rule necessitates a discussion of the statutory

and regulatory scheme underlying the EPA’s oversight of CAFOs.

A. Statutory Background

In 1948, Congress enacted the Federal Water Pollution Control Act

10

(FWPCA). FWPCA encouraged states to enact uniform laws to combat water

pollution, recognizing “that water pollution control was primarily the

11

responsibility of state and local governments.” The state-run regulation of

discharges “involved a complex process in which the government was required

to trace in-stream pollution back to specific discharges, and, given the difficulty

12

of this task, enforcement was largely nonexistent.” The federal government’s

power to curtail water pollution was also limited under FWPCA. Thus, federal

action against a discharger could only proceed “with the approval of state

officials in the state where the discharge originated and after a complicated

13

series of notices, warnings, hearings, and conference recommendations.” In

1972, FWPCA was amended to replace the state-run regulation of discharges

with an obligation to obtain and comply with a federally-mandated National

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Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. These

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amendments also transformed FWPCA into what is known today as the CWA.

The NPDES permit program, which is primarily articulated in 33 U.S.C.

10

Jeffrey M. Gaba, Generally Illegal: NPDES General Permits Under the Clean Water

Act, 31 H

.

E

.

L.

R

.

409, 413 (2007).

ARV

NVTL

EV

11

Kenneth M. Murchison, Learning from More than Five-and-a-Half Decades of Federal

Water Pollution Control Legislation: Twenty Lessons for the Future, 32 B.C.

E

.

A

.

L.

R

.

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527, 530–31 (2005).

12

Gaba, 31 H

.

E

.

L.

R

. at 414.

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EV

13

Murchison, 32 B.C.

E

.

A

.

L.

R

. at 531.

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14

Id. at 541–42.

15

Id. at 536 n.71.

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§ 1342, allows the EPA to “issue a permit for the discharge of any pollutant, or

combination of pollutants . . . .” 33 U.S.C. § 1342(a)(1). To be clear, the CWA

prohibits the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters. 33 U.S.C. § 1311.

However, if a facility requests a permit, it can discharge within certain

parameters called effluent limitations and will be deemed a point source. 33

U.S.C. §§ 1342, 1362(14). Accordingly, the point source will be regulated

pursuant to the NPDES permit issued by the EPA or one of 46 States authorized

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to issue permits. Relevant here, the definition of point source excludes

“agricultural stormwater discharges.” Id. § 1362(14). This occurs, for example,

when rainwater comes in contact with manure and flows into navigable waters.

See, e.g., Fishermen Against Destruction of Env’t, Inc. v. Closter Farms, Inc., 300

F.3d 1294, 1297 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Concerned Area Residents for the Env’t

v. Southview Farm, 34 F.3d 114, 121 (2d Cir. 1994) (holding that “agricultural

stormwater discharge” exemption applies to any “discharges [that] were the

result of precipitation”)).

If a CAFO discharges without a permit, it is strictly liable for discharging

without a permit and subject to severe civil and criminal penalties. 33 U.S.C.

§ 1319. For example, monetary sanctions can accrue at a rate of up to $50,000

per violation, per day, for criminally negligent violations, or up to $100,000 per

violation, per day, for repeated, knowing violations. Id. Criminal violators may

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Currently, 46 states are authorized to administer their own permitting programs for

the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters in lieu of the federally administered NPDES
p r o g r a m .

S e e S

N P D E S

P

A

, a v a i l a b l e a t

T A T E

R O G R A M

U T H O R I T Y

http://www.epa.gov/npdes/images/State_NPDES_Prog_Auth.pdf. Where a state has been
authorized to administer its own program, the state becomes the NPDES permit-issuing
agency in lieu of the EPA. For these state programs, the EPA retains oversight and veto
authority, as well as authority to enforce any violation of the CWA or of a state-issued
discharge permit. See 33 U.S.C. § 1342(c), (d), and (i). For purposes of this opinion, references
to the EPA’s implementation of the CWA or the EPA’s regulations also refers to authorized
states’ implementation of the CWA.

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No. 08-61093

be subject to imprisonment. 40 C.F.R. § 122.41(a)(2).

B.

CAFO’s Regulatory Background

The EPA enacted the first set of CAFO regulations in 1976. Since that

time, the substance of these regulations, regarding CAFOs, has changed only

twice, in 2003 and 2008. We discuss the applicable portions of these regulations

below.

1.

1976 Regulations

The 1976 regulations specified that CAFOs that wanted to discharge were

required to have a permit primarily based on the number of animals housed in

the facility. All large CAFOs, those with 1,000 or more animals, were required

to have an NPDES permit to discharge pollutants. 41 Fed. Reg. 11,458, 11,458

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(Mar. 18, 1976). Medium CAFOs, those with 300 to 1,000 animals, were

required to have a permit if they emitted certain discharges. Id. Finally, most

small CAFOs, those with 300 animals or less, generally were not required to

have a permit. Id. However, the EPA could determine that a permit was

required on a case-by-case basis if a small CAFO emitted certain discharges

after an onsite inspection and notice. Id. Under this regulatory scheme, if a

discharging CAFO was required to have a permit, but did not have one, it would

be subject to civil or criminal liability.

The 1976 regulatory scheme was in place for almost thirty years.

However, after being sued for failing to revise the effluent limitations for CAFO

operations, the EPA revised its regulations “to address not only inadequate

compliance with existing policy, but also the ‘changes that have occurred in the

animal production industries.’” Waterkeeper, 399 F.3d at 494 (citing 66 Fed. Reg.

2960, 2972 (Jan. 12, 2001)). Subsequently, in the 2003 Rule, the EPA shifted

from a regulatory framework that explained what type of CAFO must have a

17

For purposes of clarity, we refer to overruled regulations or regulations being

challenged using the Federal Register, as opposed to the Code of Federal Regulations.

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No. 08-61093

permit to a broader regulatory framework that explained what type of CAFO

must apply for a permit.

2.

The 2003 Rule & Waterkeeper

Under the 2003 Rule, all CAFOs were required to apply for an NPDES

permit whether or not they discharged. 68 Fed. Reg. 7176, 7266 (Feb. 12, 2003).

Specifically, every CAFO was assumed to have a “potential to discharge” and

had to apply for an NPDES permit. Id. at 7266–67. However, an option built

into the Rule permitted a CAFO to request from the EPA a “no potential to

discharge” determination. Id. If the CAFO proved that it did not have the

potential to discharge, the CAFO was not required to seek a permit. Id. The

2003 Rule also expanded the definition of exempt “agricultural stormwater

discharge” to include land application discharge, if the land application

comported with appropriate site-specific nutrient management practices. Id. at

7198. However, if the land application was not in compliance with those

practices, the land application discharge would be an unpermitted discharge in

violation of the CWA. Id. at 7197.

Furthermore, the 2003 Rule created a mandatory duty for all CAFOs,

applying for a permit, to develop and implement a site-specific Nutrient

Management Plan (NMP). Id. at 7176. An NMP required a CAFO to establish

“best management practices” (BMPs). Id. at 7213–14. The BMPs were designed

to ensure adequate storage of manure and wastewater, proper management of

mortalities and chemicals, and appropriate site-specific protocols for land

application. Id. at 7176. The BMPs were neither reviewed by the EPA nor were

they included in the terms of a CAFO’s permit to discharge.

In Waterkeeper, the Environmental Petitioners (Waterkeeper Alliance,

Inc., Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., and the American

Littoral Society) and the Farm Petitioners (American Farm Bureau Federation,

National Chicken Council, and the National Pork Producers Council), many of

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No. 08-61093

whom are petitioners or intervenors in the present matter, challenged the 2003

Rule on several grounds. 399 F.3d at 497. Specifically, the petitioners

challenged the 2003 Rule’s duty to apply and the type of discharges subject to

regulation. Id. at 504.

The Farm Petitioners asked the Second Circuit to vacate the 2003 Rule’s

“duty to apply” because it was outside of the EPA’s authority. The court agreed

and held that the EPA cannot require CAFOs to apply for a permit based on a

“potential to discharge.” Id. at 504–06. The Second Circuit explained that the

plain language of the CWA “gives the EPA jurisdiction to regulate and control

only actual discharges—not potential discharges, and certainly not point sources

themselves.” Id. at 505. In sum, the Second Circuit held that the CWA “on its

face, prevents the EPA from imposing, upon CAFOs, the obligation to seek an

NPDES permit or otherwise demonstrate that they have no potential to

discharge.” Id. at 506.

The Environmental Petitioners took issue with the 2003 Rule’s exclusion

of agricultural stormwater discharge, resulting from land application, from the

definition of “point source discharge.” They argued that the CWA requires that

all discharges from a CAFO are point source discharges, “notwithstanding the

fact that agricultural stormwater discharges are otherwise deemed exempt from

regulation.” Id. at 507. The Second Circuit disagreed. The court explained that

the CWA is “ambiguous as to whether CAFO discharges can ever constitute

agricultural stormwater.” Id. Thus, the court examined whether the exemption

for certain land application discharges was grounded in a permissible

construction of the CWA. Id. The Second Circuit determined that congressional

intent and its precedent supported the EPA’s exclusion of agricultural

stormwater discharge, resulting from land application, from designation as a

point source. Id. at 507–09.

The Environmental Petitioners also argued that the 2003 Rule was

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No. 08-61093

unlawful because “(1) it empowers NPDES authorities to issue permits to

. . . CAFOs in the absence of any meaningful review of the [NMPs] those CAFOs

have developed; and (2) it fails to require that the terms of the [NMPs] be

included in the NPDES permits.” Id. at 498. The Second Circuit agreed and

held that by failing to provide for EPA review of the NMPs, the 2003 Rule

violated the statutory commandments that the permitting agency must assure

compliance with applicable effluent or discharge limitations. Id. at 502–03.

The parties also disputed “whether the terms of the [NMPs], themselves,

constitute effluent limitations that must be included in the NPDES permits.”

Id. at 502. The Second Circuit held that because the 2003 Rule failed to require

that the terms of NMPs be included in NPDES permits, the 2003 Rule violated

the CWA. The court explained that the CWA defined effluent limitation as “‘any

restriction established by a State or the Administrator on quantities, rates, and

concentrations of chemical, physical, biological, and other constituents which are

discharged from point sources . . .’” Id. at 502 (quoting 33 U.S.C. § 1362(11)).

Thus, because “the requirement to develop [an NMP] constitutes a restriction on

land application discharges only to the extent that the [NMP] actually imposes

restrictions on land application discharges[,]” the CWA’s definition of effluent

limitations encompassed an NMP. Waterkeeper, 399 F.3d at 502.

3.

The Present Petitions for Review: The 2008 Rule

At issue here is the 2008 Rule, the EPA’s response to the Second Circuit’s

decision in Waterkeeper. See 71 Fed. Reg. 37,744 (June 30, 2006). Also at issue

are three guidance letters issued by the EPA in response to questions raised by

members of the United States Congress and a farm executive about the 2008

Rule. Below, we discuss in further detail the 2008 Rule and the Farm

Petitioners’ and Poultry Petitioners’ challenges to the 2008 Rule, as well as the

Poultry Petitioners’ challenge to the EPA’s issuance of the guidance letters.

a.

The 2008 Rule

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No. 08-61093

18

As required by the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), on June 30,

2006, the EPA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (hereinafter the

Proposed Rule) setting forth its response to the Second Circuit’s decision in

Waterkeeper. See 71 Fed. Reg. at 37,744. In place of the 2003 Rule’s duty to

apply for a permit, the Proposed Rule required that a CAFO owner or operator

apply for a permit only if the CAFO “discharges or proposes to discharge

pollutants”. Id. at 37,747 (internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, the

Proposed Rule responded to the Second Circuit’s holding about the incorporation

of NMP requirements into permits. Id. at 37,753–55. Specifically, the Proposed

Rule required that any NPDES permit issued to a CAFO include the

requirement to develop and implement an NMP, including land application

requirements. Id. at 37,551. Moreover, the NM P must be submitted, in its

entirety, with the CAFO’s permit application, must be reviewed by the agency

and the public, and must have its terms incorporated into the applicable permit

as enforceable effluent limitations. Id.

The EPA received several hundred responses to the Proposed Rule. 73

Fed. Reg. 12,321-02, 12,324 (M ar. 7, 2008). Many of the comments asked the

EPA to specify when a CAFO “proposes” to discharge. Id. In response, on March

7, 2008, the EPA published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking

18

The relevant portion of the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 553, requires that “[g]eneral notice of

proposed rule making shall be published in the Federal Register . . . .” Id. § 553(b).
Furthermore, the Rule requires:

After notice required by this section, the agency shall give
interested persons an opportunity to participate in the rule
making through submission of written data, views, or arguments
with or without opportunity for oral presentation. After
consideration of the relevant matter presented, the agency shall
incorporate in the rules adopted a concise general statement of
their basis and purpose.

Id. § 553(c).

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(hereinafter the Supplemental Proposed Rule). See generally 73 Fed. Reg.

12,321-02. The Supplemental Proposed Rule provided that a CAFO does not

discharge or propose to discharge if “based on an objective assessment of the

conditions at the CAFO, that the CAFO is designed, constructed, operated, and

maintained in a manner such that the CAFO will not discharge.Id. at 12,339.

Furthermore, if a CAFO operator makes this showing, the operator can apply for

voluntary certification. Id. The benefit of voluntary certification is that, in the

event of a discharge, an unpermitted CAFO will not be liable “for violation of the

duty to apply,” but will still be in violation of the CWA’s prohibition against

unpermitted discharges. Id.

On November 20, 2008, the EPA published the 2008 Rule, which

incorporates the proposed regulations in the Proposed Rule and the

Supplemental Proposed Rule. See 73 Fed. Reg. 70,418 (Nov. 20, 2008). In sum,

the 2008 Rule clarifies the “duty to apply” liability scheme. Id. at 70,423. It

reiterates that CAFOs “propose to discharge” if they are “designed, constructed,

operated, or maintained such that a discharge would occur.” Id. Furthermore,

each CAFO operator is required to make an objective case-by-case assessment

of whether it discharges or proposes to discharge, considering, among other

things, climate, hydrology, topology, and the man-made aspects of the CAFO.

Id. at 70,424. It further clarifies that a CAFO can be held liable for failing to

apply for a permit, in addition to being held liable for the discharge itself. Id. at

70,426. The 2008 Rule also reiterates that certification is voluntary, but if a

CAFO does not certify, in an enforcement proceeding for failing to apply for a

permit, the CAFO would have the burden of proving that it did not propose to

discharge. Id. Finally, with regard to NMPs, the 2008 Rule restates that NMPs

are an enforceable part of an NPDES permit and clarifies that the terms of

NMPs would remain the same as the terms articulated in the 2003 Rule. Id. at

70,443.

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No. 08-61093

On December 4, 2008, the 2008 Rule became final for purposes of seeking

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judicial review. 73 Fed. Reg. at 70,418. As required by 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b),

20

each of the Farm Petitioners and Poultry Petitioners (collectively, the Farm

Petitioners) timely filed petitions for review, challenging certain provisions of

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the 2008 Rule, in various courts of appeals, namely, this court and the

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Section 1369 provides in relevant part:

(b) Review of Administrator’s actions; selection of court; fees

(1) Review of the Administrator’s action . . . in making any
determination as to a State permit program submitted under
section 1342(b) of this title, []in approving or promulgating any
effluent limitation or other limitation under section 1311, 1312,
1316, or 1345 of this title, [or] in issuing or denying any permit
under section 1342 of this title . . . may be had by any interested
person
in the Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States for the
Federal judicial district in which such person resides or transacts
business which is directly affected by such action upon
application by such person. Any such application shall be made
within 120 days from the date of such determination, approval,
promulgation, issuance or denial
, or after such date only if such
application is based solely on grounds which arose after such
120th day.

33 U.S.C. § 1369(b) (emphasis added).

20

Although the Poultry Petitioners challenge certain provisions of the 2008 Rule jointly

with the Farm Petitioners, they also filed a separate challenge to the EPA Letters. Thus, for
purposes of clarity, hereinafter, references to the Farm Petitioners refer to the Farm
Petitioners’ and Poultry Petitioners’ challenges to provisions of the 2008 Rule. References to
the Poultry Petitioners refer to the Poultry Petitioners’ separate challenge to the EPA Letters.

21

Nat’l Pork Producers Council v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, No. 08-61093 (5th Cir. 2008).

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22

23

24

25

26

Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and District of Columbia Circuits.

Because an agency is required to notify the Judicial Panel on Multi-district

Litigation (JPML) if two or more petitions for review are filed that challenge an

agency’s promulgation of regulations, the EPA notified the JPML of the various

challenges. 28 U.S.C. § 2112(a)(3). Subsequently, per section 2112, this court

was randomly selected by the JPML, from the courts of appeals in which

petitions for review were filed, to address the parties’ challenges. Id.

Accordingly, the petitions were consolidated and transferred to this court from

our sister circuits.

On appeal, the Farm Petitioners primarily challenge the EPA’s “duty to

apply” for an NPDES permit, imposition of liability for failing to apply for a

permit, and the EPA’s regulation of a permitted CAFO’s land application.

b.

The EPA Letters

Shortly after the EPA issued the 2008 Rule, it issued three guidance

letters, a common practice following the issuance of complex regulations. See

generally Appalachian Power Co. v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 208 F.3d 1015, 1020

(D.C. Cir. 2000). On January 16, 2009, Benjamin H. Grumbles, Assistant

Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water, sent a letter to Senator Thomas R.

Carper of Delaware; on the same day, Grumbles sent an identical letter to then-

congressperson Michael N. Castle of Delaware; and on March 4, 2009, James D.

Giattina, Director of the Water Protection Division for Region 4, sent a letter to

22

Dairy Bus. Ass’n Inc v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, No. 09-1574 (7th Cir. 2009); Nat’l Milk

Producers Fed’n v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 08-4166 (7th Cir. 2008).

23

United Egg Producers v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, No. 08-3870 (8th Cir. 2008).

24

Natural Res. v. Nat’l Pork, No. 08-75023 (9th Cir. 2008).

25

Nat’l Pork Producers v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, No. 08-9584 (10th Cir. 2008).

26

N.C. Pork v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, No. 08-1387 (D.C. Cir. 2008).

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Jeff Smith, an executive for Perdue Farms, Inc.

The guidance letters sent to the Delaware Congress members were in

response to their joint letter to the EPA concerning “the status of EPA’s

authorization of Delaware’s [state-run CAFO] program.” Grumbles explained

that Delaware’s CAFO program was denied status because it did not comply

with the CWA. Notably, the Delaware program requires a permit only if “a

CAFO meets the numerical animal limit, has a discharge into waters of the

state, and is in non-compliance with Delaware Nutrient Management

Regulations.” The guidance letters further explained the EPA’s requirements

for a state-run CAFO program and that these requirements were the national

floor for these programs. They also stated that the CWA prohibits the discharge

of all pollutants by a CAFO. Moreover, “[t]he term pollutant is defined very

broadly in the CWA . . . . Potential sources of such pollutants at a CAFO could

include . . . litter released through confinement house ventilation fans.” The

guidance letters further explained that “any point source discharge of

stormwater that comes into contact with these materials and reaches waters of

the United States is a violation of the CW A unless authorized by a [permit].”

The letter sent by Giattina was in response to questions posed by Smith,

regarding Smith’s concern that certain EPA field offices were incorrectly

interpreting the 2008 Rule. Relevant here, Sm ith asked whether operators of

dry litter farms need to apply for a permit “because of potential runoff from the

production area[, and if] so, are there examples of dry poultry litter operations

having a discharge?” The letter explained that all CAFOs must have permits

prior to discharging pollutants and that “pollutant” is defined broadly by the

CWA and the regulations could include litter released through confinement

house ventilation fans. The letter also discussed the agricultural stormwater

exemption, explaining that it “applies only to precipitation-related discharges

from land application areas . . . where application of manure, litter, or process

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wastewater is in accordance with appropriate nutrient management practices,”

and not to “discharges from the CAFO production area.”

As required by the APA, on April 12, 2009, within 120 days of the issuance

of the guidance letters, the Poultry Petitioners filed their petition for review,

challenging the EPA Letters. The Poultry Petitioners argue that the EPA

Letters constitute final agency actions subject to judicial review and, among

other things, were required to have undergone notice and comment per the

rulemaking procedures articulated in the APA. See 5 U.S.C. § 553. The EPA

subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the Poultry Petitioners’ claim, arguing

that we do not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to guidance letters that are

merely articulations of current rules and regulations.

Our analysis of the Farm Petitioners’ claims and Poultry Petitioners’

claims proceeds as follows. Part II is divided into two parts. In subpart A, we

discuss the Farm Petitioners’ challenges. We GRANT the petition in part and

DENY the petition in part. In subpart B, we address the Poultry Petitioners’

challenge to the EPA Letters. We DISMISS their petition for lack of jurisdiction

per the EPA’s motion.

II. Analysis

A.

Farm Petitioners’ Challenges

The Farm Petitioners’ challenges to the 2008 Rule can be sub-divided into

two parts. First, they effectively challenge the “duty to apply” liability scheme.

Second, they challenge the Rule’s regulation of CAFO land application

discharges. Below we address each of these challenges in turn.

1.

Duty to Apply Liability Scheme

The duty-to-apply liability scheme has three parts. To begin, the 2008

Rule requires CAFOs that discharge or propose to discharge to apply for an

NPDES permit—the duty to apply. If a CAFO discharges and does not have a

permit, the CAFO will not only be liable for discharging without a permit, but

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also prosecuted for failing to apply for a permit—failure to apply liability.

However, a CAFO can circumvent this liability if the CAFO operator can

establish that the CAFO was designed, constructed, operated, and maintained

in a manner such that the CAFO will not discharge. The Farm Petitioners argue

that certain parts of the liability scheme are in excess of the EPA’s statutory

authority and other parts are violations of the APA.

Our review of the Farm Petitioners’ challenges rests, for the most part, on

the Second Circuit’s determination in Waterkeeper and whether the EPA’s

actions are within the scope of its statutory authority. As such, our analysis is

guided by the principles enunciated in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources

Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). If Congress has “directly spoken to

the precise question at issue” and “the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end

of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the

unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.” Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842–43

(footnote omitted). If the court determines that the statute is silent or

ambiguous with respect to the specific question at issue, then we consider

“whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the

statute.” Id. at 843. We use the traditional tools of statutory construction to

determine whether Congress has spoken to the precise point at issue. Tex. Sav.

& Cmty. Bankers Ass’n v. Fed. Hous. Bd., 201 F.3d 551, 554 (5th Cir. 2000).

We conclude that the CWA provides a comprehensive liability scheme, and

the EPA’s attempt to supplement this scheme is in excess of its statutory

authority.

a.

Duty to Apply

The 2003 Rule’s “duty to apply” required all CAFOs to apply for an NPDES

permit or demonstrate that they do not have the potential to discharge. 68 Fed.

Reg. at 7266. In Waterkeeper, the Second Circuit held that the 2003 Rule’s

“duty to apply” was ultra vires because the EPA exceeded its statutory authority.

16

No. 08-61093

Waterkeeper, 399 F.3d at 504. The court explained that the CWA is clear that

the EPA can only regulate the discharge of pollutants. To support its

interpretation, the Second Circuit examined the text of the Act. The court noted:

(1) 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) of the CWA “provides . . . [that] the discharge of any

pollutant by any person shall be unlawful,” (2) section 1311(e) of the CWA

provides that “[e]ffluent limitations . . . shall be applied to all point sources of

discharge of pollutants,” and (3) section 1342 of the Act gives NPDES authorities

the power to issue permits authorizing the discharge of any pollutant or

combination of pollutants.” Waterkeeper, 399 F.3d at 504. Accordingly, the

Second Circuit concluded that

in the absence of an actual addition of any pollutant to
navigable waters from any point, there is no point
source
discharge, no statutory violation, no statutory
obligation
of point sources to comply with EPA
regulations for point source discharges, and no
statutory obligation of point sources to seek or obtain
an NPDES permit in the first instance.

Id. at 505. The Second Circuit’s decision is clear: without a discharge, the EPA

has no authority and there can be no duty to apply for a permit.

The EPA’s response to this part of the Waterkeeper analysis is the 2008

Rule’s requirement that CAFOs that discharge and CAFOs that “propose” to

discharge apply for a permit. We address the latter category first.

i.

CAFOs that Propose to Discharge

Because the issues presented in Waterkeeper are similar to the issues

presented here, we find the Second Circuit’s analysis to be instructive and

persuasive. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the EPA’s requirement that

CAFOs that propose to discharge apply for an NPDES permit.

At first blush it seems that the EPA, by regulating CAFOs that “propose”

to discharge, is regulating CAFOs that want to discharge. However, as the Farm

17

No. 08-61093

Petitioners’ counsel explained at oral argument, the EPA’s use of the term

“propose” is not the same as the common understanding of the term—“to form

or declare a plan or intention.” W

T

N

I

EBSTER

S

HIRD

EW

NTERNATIONAL

D

1819 (8th ed. 1993). Instead, the EPA’s definition of a CAFO that

ICTIONARY

“proposes” to discharge is a CAFO designed, constructed, operated, and

maintained in a manner such that the CAFO will discharge. Pursuant to this

definition, CAFOs propose to discharge regardless of whether the operator wants

to discharge or is presently discharging. This definition thus requires CAFO

operators whose facilities are not discharging to apply for a permit and, as such,

runs afoul of Waterkeeper, as well as Supreme Court and other well-established

precedent.

Specifically, the Supreme Court explained:

[T]he National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
[requires] a permit for the ‘discharge of any pollutant
into the navigable waters of the United States, 33
U.S.C. § 1342(a). The triggering statutory term here is
not the word ‘discharge’ alone, but ‘discharge of a
pollutant,’ a phrase made narrower by its specific
definition requiring an ‘addition’ of a pollutant to the
water.

S.D. Warren Co. v. Maine Bd. of Envtl. Protection, 547 U.S. 370, 380–81 (2006).

Likewise, several circuit courts have held that the scope of the EPA’s authority

under the CWA is strictly limited to the discharge of pollutants into navigable

waters.

Notably, in the seminal case Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v.

Environmental Protection Agency, 859 F.2d 156 (D.C. Cir. 1988), the D.C. Circuit

explained more than 20 years ago that the CWA “does not empower the agency

to regulate point sources themselves; rather, EPA’s jurisdiction under the

operative statute is limited to regulating the discharge of pollutants.” Id. at 170.

In Waterkeeper, the Second Circuit echoed this interpretation of the CWA and

18

No. 08-61093

explained that “unless there is a discharge of any pollutant, there is no violation

of the Act . . . .” 399 F.3d at 504. More recently, in Service Oil, Inc. v.

Environmental Protection Agency, 590 F.3d 545 (8th Cir. 2009), the Eighth

Circuit reiterated the scope of the EPA’s regulatory authority and concluded that

“[b]efore any discharge, there is no point source” and the EPA does not have any

authority over a CAFO. Serv. Oil, Inc., 590 F.3d at 550.

These cases leave no doubt that there must be an actual discharge into

navigable waters to trigger the CWA’s requirements and the EPA’s authority.

Accordingly, the EPA’s authority is limited to the regulation of CAFOs that

discharge. Any attempt to do otherwise exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority.

Accordingly, we conclude that the EPA’s requirement that CAFOs that “propose”

to discharge apply for an NPDES permit is ultra vires and cannot be upheld.

ii. Discharging CAFOs

Although the CWA forecloses the EPA’s regulation of a CAFO before there

is a discharge, the question remains: Can the EPA require discharging CAFOs

to apply for an NPDES permit? This analysis necessitates application of

Chevron’s two-step inquiry. Chevron step one requires the court to determine,

if Congress, through the CWA, has spoken directly on the issue of whether the

EPA can require a discharging CAFO to apply for a permit. Chevron, 467 U.S.

at 842–43. As there is no language in the CWA that creates a “duty to apply” for

an NPDES permit, our analysis centers on Chevron step two—whether the

regulation “is based on a permissible construction of the statute.” Id.

We accord “deference to agencies under Chevron because of a presumption

that Congress, when it left ambiguity in a statute meant for implementation by

an agency, understood that the ambiguity would be resolved, first and foremost,

by the agency, and desired the agency (rather than the courts) to possess

whatever degree of discretion the ambiguity allows.” Tex. Clinical Labs, Inc. v.

Sebelius, 612 F.3d 771, 775 (5th Cir. 2010). However, a Chevron step two

19

No. 08-61093

analysis depends on “a number of factors. These include: the consistency of the

interpretation and the length of adherence to it, undisturbed by Congress; the

explicitness of the congressional grant of authority to the agency, with greater

deference in cases of more specific delegation; and the degree of agency expertise

necessarily drawn upon in reaching its interpretation.” Quarles v. St. Clair, 711

F.2d 691, 706–07 (5th Cir. 1983).

The primary purpose of the NPDES permitting scheme is to control

pollution through the regulation of discharges into navigable waters. See 33

U.S.C. § 1342. Therefore, it would be counter to congressional intent for the

court to hold that requiring a discharging CAFO to obtain a permit is an

unreasonable construction of the Act. In fact, the text of the Act indicates that

a discharging CAFO must have a permit. The CWA explains that discharging

without a permit is unlawful, 33 U.S.C. § 1311, and punishes such discharge

with civil and criminal penalties, 33 U.S.C. § 1319. This has been the well-

established statutory mandate since 1972. It logically follows that, at base, a

discharging CAFO has a duty to apply for a permit.

In summary, we conclude that the EPA cannot impose a duty to apply for

a permit on a CAFO that “proposes to discharge” or any CAFO before there is an

actual discharge. However, it is within the EPA’s province, as contemplated by

the CWA, to impose a duty to apply on CAFOs that are discharging.

b.

Failure to Apply Liability

The 2008 Rule provides that a CAFO can be held liable for failing to apply

for a permit. The Farm Petitioners contend that the EPA does not have the

authority to create this liability. We agree. As previously noted, if Congress has

“directly spoken to the precise question at issue” and “the intent of Congress is

clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must

give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.” Chevron, 467

U.S. at 842–43 (footnote omitted). Here, the CWA is clear about when the EPA

20

No. 08-61093

27

28

29

can issue compliance orders, bring a civil suit for an injunction or penalties,

30

or bring criminal charges for penalties. Specifically, 33 U.S.C. § 1319 allows

the EPA to impose liability if it “finds that any person is in violation of any

condition or limitation which implements [violations of]”: the discharge

31

3 2

prohibition, certain water-quality based effluent limitations, national

33

standards of performance for new sources, toxic and pretreatment effluent

34

35

standards, the EPA’s information-gathering authority, provisions permitting

36

the discharge of specific aquaculture pollutants, any permit condition or

37

38

limitation, and provisions governing the disposal or use of sewer sludge.

Notably absent from this list is liability for failing to apply for an NPDES

permit.

Moreover, section 1319 is the only provision in the Act to provide for

penalties. Assuming that the punishment for failing to apply for a permit are

27

33 U.S.C. § 1319(a).

28

Id.

§ 1319(b).

29

Id.

§ 1319(d).

30

Id.

§ 1319(c).

31

Id.

§ 1311.

32

Id.

§ 1312.

33

Id.

§ 1316.

34

Id.

§ 1317.

35

Id.

§ 1318.

36

Id.

§ 1328.

37

Id.

§ 1342.

38

Id.

§ 1345.

21

No. 08-61093

section 1319’s penalties, the EPA still runs up against the CWA’s clear

articulation that only certain violations of the Act can be enforced using section

1319’s penalties. See 33 U.S.C. § 1319; see, e.g., Serv. Oil, Inc., 590 F.3d at 550

(“Congress in § 1319(g)(1) granted EPA limited authority to assess

administrative monetary penalties for violations of specific statutory provisions

related to the core prohibition against discharging without a permit, or contrary

to the terms of a permit.”); Colt Indus., Inc. v. United States, 880 F.2d 1311, 1314

(Fed. Cir. 1989) (“EPA is not authorized under either the Clean Air or Clean

Water [A]cts to seek compensatory damages; it is limited to injunctive relief and

the maximum monetary penalties prescribed by 42 U.S.C. § 7413(b), and 33

U.S.C. § 1319, respectively.”). Accordingly, the imposition of “failure to apply”

liability is outside the bounds of the CWA’s mandate.

The Eighth Circuit’s analysis in Service Oil is instructive. In that case, the

court examined whether the EPA can assess administrative penalties for failing

to apply for an NPDES permit. As the EPA argues here, it also argued in

Service Oil that section 1318, which gives the EPA its information-gathering

authority, also gives the EPA power to impose liability for failing to apply for an

NPDES permit. 590 F.3d at 550. The Eighth Circuit rejected this argument.

In concluding that the EPA cannot assess such penalties, the court commented

on the scope of the EPA’s regulatory authority. The court explained that “the

agency’s authority to assess monetary penalties by administrative proceeding is

limited to unlawful discharges of pollutants.” Id.; see also Envtl. Prot. Info. Ctr.

v. Pac. Lumber Co., 469 F. Supp. 2d 803, 826 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (finding 33 U.S.C.

§ 1342(p) does not authorize liability for “failure to apply” for NPDES permit

coverage, but only for non-compliance with permit terms).

*

*

*

For more than 40 years, the EPA’s regulation of CAFOs was limited to

CAFOs that discharge. The 2003 Rule marked the first time that the EPA

22

No. 08-61093

sought to regulate CAFOs that do not discharge. This attempt was wholly

rejected by the Second Circuit in Waterkeeper. 399 F.3d at 504. Again, with the

2008 Rule, the EPA not only attempts to regulate CAFOs that do not discharge,

but also to impose liability that is in excess of its statutory authority. Although

Chevron makes clear that we must give deference to the agency’s interpretation

of a statute, “courts are not obliged to stand aside and rubberstamp their

affirmance of administrative decisions that they deem inconsistent with the

statutory mandate or that frustrate the congressional policy underlying a

statute.” Tex. Power & Light Co. v. FCC, 784 F.2d 1265, 1269 (5th Cir. 1986)

(citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Buffalo Crushed Stone,

Inc. v. Surface Transp. Bd., 194 F. 3d 125, 128–29 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (“[D]eference

is not without limit. We will reject an agency’s interpretation if an alternative

reading is compelled by the regulations’ plain language . . . .” (citation and

internal quotation marks omitted)).

To this end, the Supreme Court has explained: “Agencies may play the

sorcerer’s apprentice but not the sorcerer himself.” Alexander v. Sandoval, 532

U.S. 275, 292 (2001). In other words, an agency’s authority is limited to what

has been authorized by Congress. See id. Here, the “duty to apply”, as it applies

to CAFOs that have not discharged, and the imposition of failure to apply

liability is an attempt by the EPA to create from whole cloth new liability

provisions. The CWA simply does not authorize this type of supplementation to

its comprehensive liability scheme. Nor has Congress been compelled, since the

creation of the NPDES permit program, to make any changes to the CWA,

requiring a non-discharging CAFO to apply for an NPDES permit or imposing

failure to apply liability. Thus, we echo the sentiments of the Second Circuit in

Waterkeeper:

While we appreciate the policy considerations
underlying the EPA’s approach in the CAFO Rule,
however, we are without authority to permit it because

23

No. 08-61093

it contravenes the regulatory scheme enacted by
Congress . . . . To the extent that policy considerations
do warrant changing the statutory scheme, such
considerations address themselves to Congress, not to
the courts.

Waterkeeper, 399 F.3d at 505 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

2.

Land Application

The Farm Petitioners argue that the EPA’s requirement that all NMPs

39

address protocols for land application exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority.

Our analysis of this issue necessitates a brief overview of the relevant parts of

the 2003 Rule and the Second Circuit’s discussion of the 2003 Rule in

Waterkeeper.

As previously noted, the 2003 Rule established a mandatory duty for all

CAFOs applying for a permit to develop and implement an NMP, which required

a CAFO to establish BMPs. The BMPs were designed to ensure adequate

storage of manure and wastewater, proper management of mortalities and

chemicals, and relevant here, appropriate site specific protocols for land

application. See 68 Fed. Reg. at 7176. However, NMPs (and thus BMPs) were

not required to be part of a CAFO’s NPDES permit.

In Waterkeeper, the parties disputed “whether the terms of the [NMPs],

themselves, constitute effluent limitations that must be included in the NPDES

permits.” 399 F.3d at 502. The Second Circuit held that because the 2003 Rule

failed to require that the terms of NMPs be included in NPDES permits, the

2003 Rule violated the CWA. The court explained that the CWA defined effluent

limitation as “‘any restriction established by a State or the Administrator on

quantities, rates, and concentrations of chemical, physical, biological, and other

constituents which are discharged from point sources . . .’” Id. (citing 33 U.S.C.

39

As previously explained, treated manure from CAFOs is typically applied to cropland

as fertilizer. This fertilizing process is called land application.

24

No. 08-61093

§ 1362(11)). Because “the requirement to develop [an NMP] constitutes a

restriction on land application discharges,” the court held, there was no doubt

that the CWA’s definition of effluent limitation encompassed an NMP.

Waterkeeper, 399 F.3d at 502 (emphasis added). Thus, the Second Circuit

concluded that the EPA must incorporate CAFOs’ site-specific NMPs into their

permits.

Accordingly, the 2008 Rule requires that “[a] permit issued to a CAFO

must include a requirement . . . to develop and implement” an NMP. 73 Fed.

Reg. at 70,437. The Farm Petitioners argue that the EPA’s response to the

Second Circuit’s mandate is impermissible because it allows CAFOs to regulate

all land application, even if the land application is applied pursuant to an NMP.

They further contend that, in violation of the CWA’s jurisdictional limits and

Waterkeeper, the EPA requires CAFOs that seek permit coverage only for

production area discharges to apply also for coverage for land application areas.

The Farm Petitioners’ arguments are problematic because they are

challenging a requirement promulgated in the 2003 Rule. Thus, the Farm

Petitioners’ arguments had to be made within the 120-day time period for

challenging rules promulgated by an agency. 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b)(1). The 120-

day time limit is well-established, and this court has explained that the

limitation is strictly enforced. See Tex. Mun. Power Agency v. Envtl. Prot.

Agency, 799 F.2d 173, 175 (5th Cir. 1986). The only exception to this limitation

is if the grounds for the challenge arose after the 120-day time period. Id. It is

clear that the grounds for the challenges made by the Farm Petitioners did not

arise after the 120-day time period. Notably, the Farm Petitioners, many of

whom were parties in Waterkeeper, had the opportunity to respond to arguments

made by other petitioners in that case, advocating that the NMP terms be

included in a CAFO’s permit. They did not. Thus, the Farm Petitioners’

arguments, regarding NMPs and the protocols for land application, brought

25

No. 08-61093

almost six years after they were promulgated, are time barred.

B.

Poultry Petitioners’ Challenges

As previously noted, after the EPA issued the 2008 Rule, it issued three

guidance letters. Identical letters were sent to Senator Carper and

Representative Castle. The third letter was sent to a farm executive. The

Poultry Petitioners’ claims center on the substance of the EPA Letters. The

guidance letters state that poultry growers must apply for NPDES permits for

the releases of dust through poultry confinement house ventilation fans. The

Poultry Petitioners argue that this requirement is a substantive rule because it

creates new legal consequences and affects individual rights and obligations.

Thus, because the EPA failed to subject this rule to proper notice and comment,

as required by the APA, the Poultry Petitioners argue that this court should set

aside the EPA Letters’ pronouncement as unlawful. The EPA asks that we

dismiss the Poultry Petitioners’ claim because 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b)(1) governs

whether this court has jurisdiction to review an agency action, and the EPA

Letters do not fit within subsection 1369(b)(1)’s parameters. We agree and, for

the following reasons, dismiss the Poultry Petitioners’ claims.

The CWA establishes a bifurcated jurisdictional scheme whereby courts

of appeals have jurisdiction over some categories of challenges to EPA action,

and the district courts retain jurisdiction over other types of complaints. Chem.

Mfrs. Ass’n v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 870 F.2d 177, 265 (5th Cir. 1989). Specifically,

33 U.S.C. § 1369(b)(1) authorizes original jurisdiction to courts of appeals to

40

review certain agency “final actions.” Relevant to the Poultry Petitioners’

40

Specifically, section 1369(b)(1) grants courts of appeals original jurisdiction to review

agency “final actions”:

(A) in promulgating any standard of performance under section
1316 of this title,

(B) in making any determination pursuant to section

26

No. 08-61093

claims, this court can review an agency’s final action (1) approving or

promulgating certain effluent limitations, § 1369(b)(1)(E), and (2) issuing or

denying certain permits, § 1369(b)(1)(F).

As a threshold matter, in order for this court to have jurisdiction, the

guidance letters must constitute an agency final action. The Supreme Court

explained in Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154 (1997), that an agency action is final

only if it meets two criteria. Id. at 177–78. First, the action must mark the

consummation” of the agency’s decision-making process; it cannot be tentative

or interlocutory. Id. Second, the action must be one by which “rights or

obligations have been determined” or from which “legal consequences will flow.”

Id.

In regard to the first Bennett prong, we note that guidance letters can

mark the “consummation” of an agency’s decision-making process. See Her

Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario v. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 912 F.2d 1525,

1532 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (holding that the EPA’s guidance letters constitute final

agency actions because they “serve[d] to confirm a definitive position that has

a direct and immediate impact on the parties . . . .”); Ciba-Geigy Corp. v. Envtl.

Prot. Agency, 801 F.2d 430, 437 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (finding that the EPA’s guidance

1316(b)(1)(C) of this title,

(C) in promulgating any effluent standard, prohibition, or
pretreatment standard under section 1317 of this title,

(D) in making any determination as to a State permit program
submitted under section 1342(b) of this title,

(E) in approving or promulgating any effluent limitation or other
limitation under section 1311, 1312, 1316, or 1345 of this title,

(F) in issuing or denying any permit under section 1342 of this
title, and

(G) in promulgating any individual control strategy under section
1314(l) of this title . . .

27

No. 08-61093

letters constituted final agency actions because there was “no reason to believe

that the EPA Director of Pesticide Programs lack[ed] authority to speak for EPA

on th[e] issue or that his statement of the agency’s position was only the ruling

of a subordinate official that could be appealed to a higher level of EPA’s

hierarchy.” (internal quotations omitted)). However, that the guidance letters

can meet the first Bennett prong is not enough. See Bennett, 520 U.S. at 177

(“[T]wo conditions must be satisfied for agency action to be ‘final’ . . . .”). There

must also be evidence that the guidance letters have made a substantive change

in the EPA’s regulation of CAFOs. See id. at 178.

To meet the second Bennett prong, the guidance letters must affect the

Poultry Petitioners’ rights or obligations or create new legal consequences. Id.

Although the guidance letters do, as the Poultry Petitioners note, obligate them

to obtain a permit if they discharge manure or litter through ventilation fans or

face legal consequences, the EPA Letters neither create new legal consequences

nor affect their rights or obligations. Here, the guidance letters merely restate

section 1342’s prohibition against discharging pollutants without an NPDES

permit. Agency actions that have no effect on a party’s rights or obligations are

not reviewable final actions. Fairbanks N. Star Borough v. U.S. Army Corps of

Eng’rs, 543 F.3d 586, 593–94 (9th Cir. 2008) (explaining that the second Bennett

prong was not met where “rights and obligations remain unchanged.”); Nat’l

Ass’n of Home Builders v. Norton, 415 F.3d 8, 15 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (“[I]f the

practical effect of the agency action is not a certain change in the legal

obligations of a party, the action is non-final for the purpose of judicial review.”).

Moreover, an agency’s actions are not reviewable when they merely reiterate

what has already been established. See, e.g., Am. Paper Inst. v. Envtl. Prot.

Agency, 882 F.2d 287, 289 (7th Cir. 1989) (a policy statement providing the

EPA’s views concerning tolerances for dioxin in permits for paper mills was not

a final action, because “telegraphing your punches is not the same as delivering

28

No. 08-61093

them”); S. Holland Metal Finishing Co. v. Browner, 97 F.3d 932, 935–37 (7th Cir.

1996) (interpretative ruling, construing regulations, was not final action); City

of San Diego v. Whitman, 242 F.3d 1097, 1101–02 (9th Cir. 2001) (letter

indicating that the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-431

§§ 1–2, 108 Stat. 4396–97 (1994), would apply to a city’s as-yet-unfiled

application to renew its NPDES permit was not a final action). The EPA Letters

do not change any rights or obligations and only reiterate what has been well-

established since the enactment of the CWA— CAFOs are prohibited from

discharging pollutants without a permit. Thus, they do not meet the two-part

Bennett test and are not reviewable, final agency decisions.

Accordingly, we grant the EPA’s motion to dismiss because we lack

jurisdiction to consider the Poultry Petitioners’ challenge to the EPA Letters.

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the petitions are granted in part, denied in part,

and dismissed in part. We hereby vacate those provisions of the 2008 Rule that

require CAFOs that propose to discharge to apply for an NPDES permit, but we

uphold the provisions of the 2008 Rule that impose a duty to apply on CAFOs

that are discharging. We vacate those provisions of the 2008 Rule that create

liability for failing to apply for an NPDES permit. Additionally, we uphold the

provisions of the 2008 Rule that allow permitting authorities to regulate a

permitted CAFO’s land application and include these requirements in a CAFO’s

NPDES permit. Finally, we dismiss the Poultry Petitioners’ challenge of the

guidance letters for lack of jurisdiction.

29

Referenced Cases

  1. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION INFORM. v. Pacific Lumber
  2. Buffalo Crushed v. STB
  3. Ciba-Geigy Corporation v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  4. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario v. United States Environmental Protection Agency
  5. Appalachian Power Co v. EPA
  6. Natl Assn Home Bldrs v. Norton, Gale
  7. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  8. City of San Diego v. Christine Todd Whitman
  9. Fairbanks North Star v. US Army Corps of Engs.
  10. Texas Power & Light Company v. Federal Communications Commission
  11. TX Svngs & Commty v. Fed Hsing Finance Bd
  12. Texas Municipal Power Agency v. Administrator of the United States of America Environmental Protection Agency
  13. Chemical Manufacturers Association v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  14. Rosie Quarles v. Fred St. Clair
  15. Service Oil, Inc. v. USEPA
  16. American Paper Institute, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency
  17. South Holland Metal Finishing Company v. Carol Browner
  18. Concerned Area Residents for the Environment Philip Karcheski Kathleen Karcheski v. Southview Farm
  19. Waterkeeper Alliance v. United States Environmental Protection Agency
  20. Fisherman Against Destruction v. Closter Farms
  21. Alexander v. Sandoval
  22. SD Warren Co. v. Maine Bd. of Environmental Protection
  23. Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
  24. Bennett v. Spear
  25. Colt Industries v. The United States