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Backcountry Against Dumps v. EPA

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20471
Nos. 95-1343, 100 F.3d 147/(D.C. Cir., 10/29/1996)

The court vacates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) approval of a solid-waste management plan submitted under §4005 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by a Native American tribe that sought to develop a 600-acre landfill on its reservation in San Diego County, California. Applying the Chevron doctrine, the court examines whether RCRA authorizes EPA to approve solid-waste permitting plans submitted by Native American tribes. The court holds that §4005(c) is clear on its face: states are required to submit solid-waste permitting plans to EPA for review and approval. Native American tribes, however, are defined as municipalities, not states. Further, §4005(c) says nothing about municipalities submitting their own solid-waste permitting plans to EPA. Thus, the agency's interpretation of §4005(c) conflicts with the plain language of RCRA's definitional provisions. The court rejects the Agency's argument that because §4005(c) is silent as to its application to Native American tribes, the statute is ambiguous and the court must defer to EPA's reasonable interpretation. The court explains that under the Chevron doctrine, it would only defer to the Agency's interpretation of §4005(c) if Native American tribes were not defined anywhere in the statute. But because Native American tribes are explicitly defined as municipalities, and because only states may submit solid-waste management plans for EPA approval, the Agency's position that it may approve plans submitted by Native American tribes is inconsistent with the statute's plain language.

Counsel for Petitioners
Alan C. Waltner
1736 Franklin St., 8th Fl., Oakland CA 94612
(510) 893-6247

Counsel for Respondent
Robert I. Dodge
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before: WALD, ROGERS and TATEL, Circuit Judges.