SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The 9th Circuit halted the Bush administration’s practice of giving oil and gas operations a free pass on Clean Water Act provisions requiring them to obtain permits to release sediment-laden storm water.
A split panel vacated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s storm-water discharge rule, which creates an exemption for storm runoff from oil and gas fields “that contribute to violations of water-quality standards,” the ruling states.
The exemption lets the EPA decide whether the runoff is contaminated with “overburden, raw material, product, or process waste.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Amigos Bravos and the Powder River Basin Resource Council, claimed that the EPA exemption violates federal environmental and procedural laws.
The 2-1 majority ruled that the agency took an “inconsistent and conflicted position” on sediment in storm water. Before the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the EPA required permits for sediment-rich runoff, even if the runoff was otherwise uncontaminated.
“Now, EPA has changed its interpretation of what constitutes ‘contamination'” and has tried to “minimize and justify its earlier stance,” Judge Roth wrote.
The court vacated the rule.