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National Uniformity Under the Water Act: Two Circuits Uphold EPA's Authority to Issue Effluent Limitations Under §301

January 1976

Citation: ELR 10008

In key decisions concerning one of the most hotly contested ambiguities in the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, the Third1 and Seventh2 Circuit Courts of Appeals recently held that the Environmental Protection Agency has authority under §3013 of the statute to issue a uniform, single number nationwide effluent limitation applicable to all existing point sources within a particular industrial class or category. The cases are in direct conflict with an earlier Eighth Circuit ruling,4 which held that such limitations can be established only on a case by case basis for individual sources under the guidelines published by EPA pursuant to §3045 of the Act.

Whether EPA can promulgate rules governing effluent discharges from existing point sources under both §§301 and 304, as the agency contends, or can do so only under the latter section, as industrial petitioners claim in the more than 200 lawsuits now pending against EPA's effluent limitations for various point source categories, goes to the very heart of the statutory scheme for regulating water pollution. The ultimate resolution of this question bears directly on the achievability of nationally uniform effluent limitations within each category or class of industrial polluters, an oft-stated goal of the Amendments.6 Congress considered uniformity of standards within point source categories crucial for two reasons: first, to facilitate administration and enforcement under the Act, and second, to prevent industries from using economic blackmail (threats to move to a state with less stringent water pollution control standards) against states trying to do a diligent regulatory job.

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