A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) is improperly issuing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for concentrated animal feeding operations without authorization by the U.S. EPA. Two residents of northwest Ohio filed the suit last summer against the ODA, the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA. In a tenuous argument, they alleged that the Ohio EPA illegally delegated its authority over NPDES permits by allowing ODA to issue a manure management plan as a condition for obtaining an NPDES permit from the Ohio EPA, and by allowing ODA to “determine, collect and analyze” data required for an NPDES permit. The plaintiffs had also requested a preliminary injunction against ODA, which the court denied last December.
The lawsuit aims at the Ohio legislature's action in 2000 that transferred authority from the Ohio EPA to ODA for Ohio's state-based permitting program for concentrated animal feeding facilities. The state permit program is separate from, and in addition to, the NPDES permit program administered under the federal Clean Water Act by the Ohio EPA. Following the transfer of the state program to ODA, Ohio requested that the U.S. EPA approve a transfer of the NPDES permit authority for animal feeding operations from Ohio EPA to the ODA. The U.S. EPA has not yet approved the transfer, and the NPDES program remains with the Ohio EPA. If approved by the U.S. EPA, both the state and NPDES permit programs would be administered through ODA's Livestock Envrionmental Permitting program. Until that time, ODA administers the Livestock Environmental Permitting program according to Ohio law, while the Ohio EPA oversees NPDES permits for animal feeding operations that are also subject to the Clean Water Act due to potential discharges into waters of the United States.
The plaintiffs claimed that ODA is improperly administering NPDES permits because of the manure management plans required for both the state and federal permit programs. An applicant seeking both an Ohio and an NPDES permit can submit the same manure management plan to each agency. The standards for both programs are the same, because ODA followed the EPA's federal requirements for manure management plans when it developed Ohio's manure management plan standards. It is possible that a manure management plan approved by ODA could also be approved by the Ohio EPA in the NPDES permit program. Plaintiffs argued that by allowing a manure management plan that had been approved for ODA's permit program to be used in the application for an NPDES permit, the Ohio EPA was delegating its authority to ODA to review and approve manure management plans for the NPDES program.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. District Court disagreed. "Even though a permit applicant may submit to the Ohio EPA a manure management plan which was developed to satisfy Ohio’s permit to operate requirements, the plan is still reviewed by the Ohio EPA and will only be allowed to be used in the discharge elimination permit application if the plan satisfies federal regulations and the Clean Water Act," stated Judge David Katz.
Judge Katz proceeded to grant the agencies' motion to dismiss the case. "Plaintiffs’ assertion that the Ohio EPA improperly delegated its authority regarding concentrated feeding permits to the Ohio Department of Agriculture is completely devoid of merit. The facts simply do not show that Ohio’s EPA and Department of Agriculture have engaged in any conduct which violates a federal statute or regulation."
Read the decision in Askins v. Ohio Dept. of Agriculture here.
Fourteen years after the Ohio Legislature transferred permitting authority for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from the Ohio EPA to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), a Wood County couple is challenging the transfer in federal court as a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. Larry and Vickie Askins filed the lawsuit on August 4, 2014 in the U.S. District Court Northern Division against the ODA, Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent ODA from further issuing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to CAFOs. The lawsuit also asks the court to order that only the Ohio EPA can administer the NPDES permit program in Ohio, that the Ohio EPA violated federal law by failing to notify the U.S. EPA of the transfer of CAFO permitting authority to ODA and that the U.S. EPA violated federal law by failing to suspend Ohio’s ability to issue NPDES permits after the transfer of authority.
The Ohio Legislature passed S.B. 141 in 2000, which transferred authority to issue NPDES permits for CAFOs from Ohio EPA to ODA. The lawsuit alleges that this transfer violated the terms of a 1974 Memorandum of Agreement between the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA, in which the U.S. EPA, which has original authority over NPDES permits, delegated its authority to the Ohio EPA for purposes of administering the NPDES program in Ohio. To date, U.S. EPA has delegated full or partial NPDES authority to 45 states.
According to the Askins lawsuit, Ohio also violated Clean Water Act regulations by not notifying the U.S. EPA of the transfer until 2006. Since the notification in 2006, the U.S. EPA still has not granted ODA the authority to administer an NPDES permit program for CAFOs, claims the lawsuit.
The lawsuit arises under the Clean Water Act’s “citizen suit” provision, which allows a citizen who has been or may be adversely affected to file a claim against someone who is violating the Clean Water Act or against an EPA Administrator that fails to perform any non-discretionary act or duty under the Clean Water Act.
While the CWA citizen suit provision grants citizens the right to enforce the law, citizens must also satisfy the “legal standing” doctrine of the U.S. Constitution’s Article III, which requires a suing party to have personally suffered actual or threatened injury that can fairly be traced to the defendant’s actions and for which the court can provide a remedy. Thus, the Askinses must be able to prove that they have suffered or will suffer particular injuries from the transfer of NPDES permit authority to ODA, from Ohio EPA’s failure to notify of the transfer and from the U.S. EPA’s failure to approve the transfer or withdraw authority, and must also show that the injunctions and orders they seek from the court will address their injuries. A review of the Askins’ complaint, however, does not indicate the injuries the couple claim to have suffered or will suffer due to the agencies' alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.
Read the complaint in Askins v Ohio Dept. of Agriculture here.