The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the Chesapeake Bay “total maximum daily load” (TMDL), developed over many years to address pollution in Chesapeake Bay, was consistent with the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the U.S. Constitution’s division of powers between the states and the federal government. The case is American Farm Bureau Federation, et al., v. EPA, et al.
In 2010, EPA published the TMDL for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can be released into Chesapeake Bay. The Bay’s watershed consists of 64,000 square miles and contains tens of thousands of lakes, rivers streams and creeks all flowing into the Bay. It has a surface area of 4500 square miles and almost 12,000 miles of shoreline, and it is estimated that by 2030, 20 million people will live in the watershed–by any measure, this TMDL–and the environmental problems it confronts–is very significant. Many trade associations, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, have argued that all aspects of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, which go beyond the tally of the allowable sum of pollutants that the Bay can safely absorb every day, exceeds the scope of EPA’s authority under the CWA. Moreover, they argue that EPA’s actions will have the effect of unlawfully intruding upon the states’ traditional role in regulating land use. However, this latter argument has not been successful with the states immediately involved with the TMDL–Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia–that ceded authority to EPA to devise this plan, nor with the District Courts or the Court of Appeals.