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CROWN SIMPSON PULP CO. ET AL. v. COSTLE

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: March 17, 1980.

CROWN SIMPSON PULP CO. ET AL
v.
COSTLE, ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 445 U.S. Page 193]

Pursuant to § 301 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Act), as added by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, 86 Stat. 844, and amended by the Clean Water Act of 1977, 91 Stat. 1582, 33 U. S. C. § 1311 (1976 ed. and Supp. II), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)*fn1 promulgates regulations limiting the amount of effluent that can be discharged into navigable waters from a category or class of point sources of pollution. Requirements for particular plants or mills are implemented through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

[ 445 U.S. Page 194]

     permits. EPA issues NPDES permits directly except in those States authorized by EPA to issue permits through their own programs. §§ 402 (b), 402 (c) of the Act, 33 U. S. C. §§ 1342 (b), 1342 (c) (1976 ed. and Supp. II). EPA is notified of the actions taken by state permit-issuing authorities and may veto the issuance of any permit by state authorities by objecting in writing within 90 days. § 402 (d)(2), 33 U. S. C. § 1342 (d)(2) (1976 ed., Supp. II). This case presents the question of whether the EPA's action denying a variance and disapproving effluent restrictions contained in a permit issued by an authorized state agency is directly reviewable in the United States Court of Appeals under § 509 (b) of the Act, 86 Stat. 892, 33 U. S. C. § 1369 (b).*fn2

Petitioners operate bleached kraft pulpmills which discharge pollutants into the Pacific Ocean near Eureka, Cal. In 1976, they sought NPDES permits from the California Regional Water Resources Board, North Coast Region (Regional Board).*fn3 The Director of EPA's Region IX Enforcement Division objected to the permits proposed by the Regional Board. Petitioners sought direct review of the EPA's action in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

 Those direct review proceedings were stayed pending action by the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board). The State Board set aside the orders of the Regional Board and proposed to issue new permits in their stead. App. to Pet. for Cert. 54. It granted petitioners' requests

[ 445 U.S. Page 195]

     for variances from EPA's effluent limitations*fn4 for Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and pH, but established alternative effluent limitations for BOD and pH to apply in case EPA disapproved the variances in the proposed permits. EPA denied the requested variances and vetoed the permits to the extent that they exempted petitioners from full compliance with the BOD and pH effluent limitations. Petitioners brought a direct review action in the Ninth Circuit, which was consolidated with the actions which they had individually filed earlier.*fn5

The Court of Appeals dismissed the petitions for lack of jurisdiction. 599 F.2d 897 (1979). It concluded that it had no jurisdiction under § 509 (b)(1)(E) of the Act, 33 U. S. C. § 1369 (b)(1)(E), which provides for review in the courts of appeals of actions "approving or promulgating any effluent limitation or other limitation. . . ." The Court of Appeals found this subsection inapplicable since EPA did not approve or promulgate anything when it rejected a proposed permit. 599 F.2d, at 902. Further, the court found that the subsection applied to effluent limitations affecting categories of point sources rather than to decisions affecting particular plants only. Ibid.

The court also found jurisdiction lacking under § 509 (b)(1)(F) of the Act, 33 U. S. C. § 1369 (b)(1)(F), which provides for review in the courts of appeals of EPA actions "in issuing or denying any permit under [§ 402 of the Act]. . . ."*fn6 The court recognized that in States where EPA itself administers

[ 445 U.S. Page 196]

     the permit program, this subsection unquestionably provides for direct review in the courts of appeals. 599 F.2d, at 903. However, because California administers its own permit-issuing program, EPA in the present case did no more than veto an NPDES permit proposed by the state authority. The Court of Appeals found that under its decision in Washington v. EPA, 573 F.2d 583 (1978) (Scott Paper), EPA's veto of a state-issued permit did not constitute "issuing or denying" a permit and therefore did not clothe the court with jurisdiction.

District Judge Renfrew, sitting by designation, concurred in the majority's analysis of § 509 (b)(1)(E), and also agreed that the § 509 (b)(1)(F) question was foreclosed by Scott Paper. 599 F.2d, at 905. However, Judge Renfrew, believing that Scott Paper was wrongly decided, urged the Court of Appeals to take the present case en banc in order to consider overruling that decision. He argued that vesting jurisdiction in the courts of appeals under § 509 (b)(1)(F) would best comport with the congressional goal of ensuring prompt resolution of challenges to EPA's actions and would recognize that EPA's veto of a state-issued permit is functionally similar to its denial of a permit in States which do not administer an approved permit-issuing program.

We agree with the concurring opinion and hold that the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction over this action under § 509 (b)(1)(F).*fn7 When EPA, as here, objects to effluent limitations contained in a state-issued permit, the precise effect of its action is to "[deny]" a permit within the meaning of § 509 (b)(1)(F). Under the contrary construction of the Court of Appeals, denials of NPDES permits would be reviewable at different levels of the federal-court system depending on the fortuitous circumstance of whether the State

[ 445 U.S. Page 197]

     in which the case arose was or was not authorized to issue permits.*fn8 Moreover, the additional level of judicial review in those States with permit-issuing authority would likely cause delays in resolving disputes under the Act. Absent a far clearer expression of congressional intent, we are unwilling to read the Act as creating such a seemingly irrational bifurcated system.*fn9 We therefore grant the petition for certiorari, reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

So ordered.

Disposition

Certiorari granted; 599 F.2d 897, reversed and remanded.


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