Judge Tosses Suit Over Delisting of Maryland Rivers

WASHINGTON (CN) – Finding it moot, a federal judge dismissed a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 decision to reclassify 53 Maryland waterways, which lowered quality standards for rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled Tuesday that the challenge brought by half a dozen Maryland environmental groups was moot because Maryland’s 2012 integrated report of surface water quality was superseded by another report in 2014.

Blue Water Baltimore, Chester River Association, Gunpowder Riverkeeper, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Waterkeepers Chesapeake – all nonprofit environmental organizations dedicated to protecting local watersheds in Maryland –  sued last year, alleging that the EPA’s approval of Maryland’s removal of the 53 waterways from its impaired-waters list was arbitrary and capricious because they were removed “without adequate public notice, opportunity for comment, or explanation.”

After the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1987, the EPA was tasked with coordinating an effort to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay by working with surrounding states.

One of the agency’s primary responsibilities was determining a “total maximum daily load” for the Bay, which is described as a “pollution diet” identifying the maximum amount of pollutants a waterway can receive while still meeting water-quality standards.

According to Judge Walton’s ruling, Maryland’s 2012 report on surface water quality determined that the total maximum daily load for Chesapeake Bay – decided by the EPA, in cooperation with states surrounding the Bay – had established maximum daily loads for waterways that Maryland had previously classified as impaired.

As a result of that determination, the 2012 report moved the listings “from Category 5, which are impaired waters requiring a total maximum daily load, to Category 4a, which are impaired waters that do not require a total maximum daily load because one has already been established, in this case by the Bay total maximum daily load.”

The EPA approved the 2012 report later that year.

In March 2016, the environmentalist groups sued, claiming the agency’s approval of the reclassification of the 53 water bodies goes against the Clean Water Act’s requirements.

But Judge Walton sided with the EPA on Tuesday and granted the agency’s motion to dismiss the complaint, citing a more recent report on surface water quality that meant the 2012 report was no longer in effect.

“The Court concludes that the plaintiffs’ challenges to the EPA’s approval of Maryland’s 2012 Integrated Report are moot because the 2014 Integrated Report superseded the 2012 Integrated Report,” he wrote. “Furthermore, the plaintiffs have failed to show that their challenges are both ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review’ because more than two years elapsed between the EPA’s approvals of Maryland’s 2012 and 2014 Integrated Reports.”

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