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Harmon Indus., Inc. v. Browner

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20035
Nos. 97-0832-CV-W-3, 19 F. Supp. 2d 988/(W.D. Mo., 08/25/1998)

The court holds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the authority to impose its own separate enforcement penalties on a Missouri corporation after the corporation and an authorized state agency negotiated a state court-approved settlement for Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) violations. The court first holds that EPA does not have statutory authority under RCRA to seek a civil penalty. The plain language of RCRA §3006(b) provides that the authorized state agency operates in lieu of or instead of the federal program. Contrary to EPA's assertion, the concept of co-existing enforcement powers is inconsistent with EPA's delegation of authority and RCRA's legislative history. Indeed, such a conclusion would predictably result in confusion, inefficiency, duplicative agency expenditures, and would thwart the public policy of early and nonjudicial dispute resolution. Neither the RCRA agreement between the state and EPA nor the statutes give EPA specific authority to override the state agency's determination of the appropriateness of a civil penalty. RCRA §3006(e) gives EPA only the option of withdrawing authorization of a state program that fails to administer or enforce the program; not the option to reject part of a program or course of action on an incident-by-incident basis because EPA believes the penalty to be inadequate.

The court next holds that res judicata bars EPA from seeking civil penalty violations against the corporation. The state court case and this action both seek to enforce the hazardous waste program regulations, and are based on the same facts and law. The corporation was the named defendant in both actions, and neither the state agency nor EPA claim the successive actions were presented with the agencies in a particular capacity or status. And the federal-state partnership between EPA and the state agency establishes privity.

The court then holds that the EPA's civil penalty is not barred by the statute of limitations. Despite the corporation's contention that the time at which EPA could have sued began 25 years ago at the moment of violation, the continuing violation doctrine applies to the corporation's violations of the regulations, and the statute of limitations runs from the date of the most recent violation. The court also holds that EPA's penalty assessment against the corporation was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or unsupported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.

[Counsel not available at this printing.]