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RSR Corp. v. Browner

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20822
Nos. 96-6186, (2d Cir., 03/26/1997) Aff'd

The court holds that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) doesnot exempt from disclosure lead production-rate information contained in Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) compliance reports that a lead smelting company submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The court first holds that the company's action to enjoin EPA's disclosure of information is an action under the Administrative Procedure Act, not under FOIA. The court next holds that the district court's use of the arbitrary and capricious standard was appropriate. Because reverse FOIA actions are adjudicatory in nature, de novo review is warranted only if the fact-finding procedures that EPA used were inadequate. The court notes that it would have been better if EPA had disclosed to the company the information-requesting party's argument that the information was ineligible for confidential treatment because it was effluent data" under the FWPCA. Nevertheless, the court concludes that this deficiency did not render EPA's procedures inadequate under the law. The company should have recognized that the data at issue at least arguably fell under the definition of "effluent data," and made the appropriate arguments in its response to EPA. Further, the regulations do not require EPA to provide the requesting party's arguments to the business asserting confidentiality. The court next upholds EPA's conclusion that because the information was necessary to determine compliance with FWPCA pretreatment standards, it was "effluent data" subject to FOIA's disclosure requirements. Because the statutory standards are expressed in pounds of pollutant per million pounds of lead produced from smelting, it is obvious that production rate data would be necessary to determine the ratio as it is set forth in the FWPCA. The court next holds that the record is sufficient to uphold EPA's conclusion. It contains both EPA's and the requesting party's detailed explanations of the necessity of production rate data to a determination of compliance. The court next upholds the district court's ruling that discovery beyond the administrative record was unnecessary. The record is not incomplete; rather, it supports EPA's determination and provides a sufficient basis to evaluate the reasonableness of its decision. Last, the court holds that the company's plant is a point source subject to the pretreatment standards and the reporting requirements of the FWPCA. The company's argument that it is merely an indirect discharger into a publicly owned treatment works rather than a point source not only is contrary to the plain language of the statute, but also requires the court to ignore the large portion of the statute that details pretreatment standards and requirements for compliance.

[The district court's opinion is published at 26 ELR 21343.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
David B. Weinberg
Weinberg, Bergeson & Neuman
1300 I St. NW, Washington DC 20005
(202) 962-8585

Counsel for Defendant
Patricia R. McCubbin
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000