Save Our Community v. U.S. E.P.A. ( 1992 )

  •                                   United States Court of Appeals,
                                                Fifth Circuit.
                                               No. 91–7012.
                                  Save Our Community, et al., Plaintiffs,
                             SAVE OUR COMMUNITY, Plaintiff–Appellee,
           U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, et al., Defendants–Appellants.
                                               Sept. 14, 1992.
    Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
    Before POLITZ, Chief Judge, and DUHÉ, Circuit Judge.**
            R CURIAM:
            Appellee, Save Our Community ("SOC"),1 brought suit challenging the draining of several
    ponds on the site of a proposed expansion of a 73–acre landfill (the "Skyline Landfill") near the City
    of Ferris, Texas, operated by appellant Trinity Valley Reclamation, Inc. (collectively "Trinity").2
    SOC3 sought a preliminary injunction and a declarat ory judgment that Trinity violated the Clean
    Water Act ("CWA"), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251 et seq., by failing to obtain a permit pursuant to section 404
         Decided by a quorum, 28 U.S.C. § 46(d). Judge Jerre Williams heard argument as a member
    of the panel but subsequently recused.
        This case originally proceeded on behalf of SOC and the City of Ferris. In the district court's
    grant of the application for preliminary injunction, the court found that while SOC had standing,
    the City of Ferris was not an appropriate party to the suit. Save Our Community v. EPA, 
    741 F. Supp. 605
    , 611 (N.D.Tex.1990).
        Trinity Valley Reclamation, Inc., is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Waste Management of
    North America, Inc., which is in turn a wholly-owned subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc. In
    the proceedings below, the Waste Management entities were collectively referred to as Waste
    Management by both SOC and the court. However, because the Waste Management entities
    refers to themselves as Trinity on appeal, to alleviate confusion, we likewise do so.
        SOC is an unincorporated association of individuals organized and existing to oppose
    expansion of the Skyline landfill. Members of SOC reside in the cities of Ferris, Dallas, and
    Palmer, and in rural areas in Ellis and Dallas Counties. SOC seeks to promote the protection of
    the wetlands in and around its members' communities. SOC's members assert that they enjoy the
    wildlife, aesthetics, open space, ecological and other values of the wetlands, which have been and
    may or will be drained and/or filled, and are directly and beneficially interested in the continued
    protection, preservation, and enhancement of these values.
    of the Act before starting to drain the ponds. SOC also sought a declaration that appellants the
    United States Army Corps of Engineers ("Corps") and the United States Environmental Protection
    Agency ("EPA") (collectively "Federal defendants") either failed to perform a duty to enforce section
    404 provisions or incorrectly interpreted the CWA by determining that draining is not a regulated
    activity under the Act. The district court held as a matter of law that the draining activity required
    a permit. It issued a permanent injunction. We reverse.
                                                  I. FACTS
           Trinity owns and operates the Skyline Landfill located near Ferris, Texas. In contemplation
    of expanding the landfill to encompass a total area of 340 acres, Trinity solicited an opinion from the
    Corps in May of 1987 as to whether the Corps had jurisdiction over any portion of the proposed
    expansion area as constituting waters of the United States. The area included seven man-made
    ponds. The Corps determined these ponds were waters of the United States, and, as such, were
    protected under the CWA. The EPA subsequently sent a letter to Trinity concurring in the Corps'
    determination and advising it of the need for a permit if any discharge into these ponds was
           Since filling the ponds with landfill would violate the CWA, Trinity began draining the ponds
    by the use of a mechanical pump, utilizing the water extracted to irrigate the sod covering areas of
        The Corps and the EPA jointly administer the CWA section 404 regulatory program. The
    CWA confers broad authority to the Corps and the EPA to regulate activities involving a
    discharge of dredged or fill material into the nation's waters, including wetlands. 57 Fed.Reg.
    26894 (1992) (to be codified at 33 C.F.R. pts. 323 & 328 and 40 C.F.R. pts. 110, 112, 116, 117,
    122, 230, 232, and 401) (proposed June 16, 1992). Under the Memorandum of Agreement
    between the EPA and the Corps delineating jurisdictional authority under the CWA with regard to
    standard permit applications, the Corps makes most of the jurisdiction decisions though it must
    abide by EPA guidance. A tracking system is also provided whereby the Corps supplies the EPA
    with a record of all its jurisdictional determinations to enable the EPA to review decisions. See
    Memorandum of Agreement Between the Department of the Army and the Environmental
    Protection Agency Concerning the Determination of the Geographic Jurisdiction of the Section
    404 Program and the Application of the Exemptions Under Section 404(f) of the Clean Water
    Act (Jan. 19, 1989).
    the existing landfill.5 According to Trinity, maintaining a proper sod cover over the existing landfill
    necessitated irrigation, and the ponds provided the only water available in the area. Moreover,
    Trinity, as well as the Corps, expressed a concern that the rubble dams creating the ponds were
    unstable, and thus were a risk to public safety, further necessitating the removal of water from the
    ponds. More important, Trinity planned to drain the ponds and utilize these areas for landfill
    purposes.6 Unsure whether this pumping activity would ever fully drain the ponds, Trinity asserts,
    and the Corps concurs, that Trinity subsequently would seek another determination from the Corps
    as to whether these drained areas still constituted waters of the United States prior to utilizing the
    areas for landfill purposes.7
        According to a recent commentary, draining a wetland without attaining a section 404 permit
    has emerged as a common vehicle to destroy wetlands. Comment, Pumping With the Intent to
    Kill: Evading Wetlands Jurisdiction Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act Through
    Draining, 40 DePaul L.Rev. 1059, 1080 (1991). In essence, the draining is accomplished, as in
    the instant case, through the installation and use of a mechanical pump or other dewatering
    device. Consequently, the water is drained out of the wetland, destroying the water, soil, and
    vegetation conditions necessary to characterize the area as "waters of the United States," subject
    to protection by the CWA.
        After Trinity was advised that the ponds, in their present condition, were jurisdictional waters
    fringed with wetlands, Trinity met with officials from the Corps, the EPA, and the Fish and
    Wildlife Service (FWS) on several occasions to discuss Trinity's plans to drain these ponds. All
    three agencies advised Trinity that no permit was required for Trinity's draining activities as long
    as Trinity did not discharge any pollutants into any jurisdictional waters of the United States.
                    Trinity maintains that it is committed to wetlands protection and preservation. It is
            cognizant that its plan to de-water the ponds will result in some loss of wetland habitat
            (arguably all), and, consequently, has sought voluntarily to propose to replace the ponds
            with a high-quality wetlands wildlife habitat elsewhere on Trinity's property in an area
            adjacent to Ten Mile Creek. Trinity has submitted its proposed Wetlands Development
            Plan to the Corps, the EPA, and the FWS for their review and comment. According to
            Trinity, it has been verbally advised by representatives from these agencies that the new
            proposed wetlands wildlife habitat "will be superior to the existing water-filled pits
        On May 30, 1991, Trinity applied to the Corps for a permit for the draining of the ponds at
    issue in the instant case, the destruction and removal of the rubble dams, and the creation of new
    replacement wetlands elsewhere. The permit application anticipates that the discharge of
    "dredged or fill material for this project will included discharges resulting from the pumping of
    water, removal of the rubble dams and dredging of the benthic soils from existing impoundments
                    According to the Federal defendants, though the SOC, the amici curiae, the
            Environmental Defense Fund ("EDF") and National Wildlife Federation ("NWF") appear
            to take the application as an indication that the draining of the ponds requires a permit, the
           During the course of this pumping operation, the result of which had lowered the surface area
    of the ponds down from 20 to 10 acres, Trinity, in January 1989, applied to the Texas Department
    of Health ("TDH") for a permit to expand the Skyline Landfill from 73 acres to 340.399 acres. The
    TDH referred along the application to the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department
    of the Interior (FWS) for its review. FWS replied that there was "an apparent attempt to circumvent
    the regulations" on the part of Trinity, and recommended t hat "in the interest of fish and wildlife
    resources and wetland conservation ... the permit application be denied." FWS expressed its concerns
    regarding the project, and reported that it "noted a variety of wildlife using the ponds on our on-site
    visit including leopard frogs, beaver, and various birds." FWS also drew Trinity's attention to the
    depositing of fill material occurring in one of the ponds.
           On April 2, 1990, claiming that the draining activity required a permit from the Corps
    pursuant to Section 404 of the CWA, the City of Ferris and SOC filed their Original Complaint,
    Application for Temporary Restraining Order, and Application for Preliminary Injunction under the
    citizen suit provision of the CWA. They sought to enjoin the further removal of water from the
    ponds. The City of Ferris and SOC also asked for a declaration that the Corps and the EPA had
    either misinterpreted the CWA by concluding that Trinity did not require a section 404 permit to drain
    the ponds or had failed in their duties under section 404. The next day, citing the need to prevent
    further drainage o f the ponds, the district court issued a TRO enjoining Trinity from draining or
    otherwise altering wetlands located on the Skyline Landfill property.8
           application and notice do not support the inference. Although Trinity may drain the ponds
           without a permit if no discharge occurs, it would be easier for Trinity if the project would
           progress without the need to prevent discharges. Further, as Trinity also concedes, it is
           unclear whether Trinity will be able to drain the ponds completely or that the pond sites
           will cease to be wetlands regardless of Trinity's careful draining. Thus, the Corps suggests
           that it was wise to apply early for a permit.
         Ultimately, after a four-week hearing in April, and after voluminous post-hearing briefing by
    all parties, TDH denied Trinity's landfill expansion permit application on August 8, 1990. Trinity's
    motion for rehearing was denied on February 20, 1991.
           In the weeks that followed, the EPA and the Corps filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing that no
    permit was required for Trinity's draining activity. Nonetheless, on May 3, 1990, the district court
    rendered it s decision in a published opinion, Save Our Community v. EPA, 
    741 F. Supp. 605
    , 617
    (N.D.Tex.1990), enjoining Trinity from "draining, dredging, building on, discharging into or
    otherwise altering, by any means, the seven ponds classified as wetlands ... unless and until Trinity
    procures a § 404(b) permit from the Corps for the activities listed above, or until the entry of final
    judgment or unt il further order of this Court." Because it believed that, "in light of its ruling, the
    Corps and the EPA [would] carry out their duty to make a determination under § 404(b)," it refused
    to grant injunctive relief against the Corps or the EPA.
           In reaching this conclusion, the district court engaged in a policy-based analysis of the
    CWA—its legislative history, regulatory guidelines issued pursuant to it, and particular language
    excised from cases applying it. Focusing nearly entirely on the clearly destructive aspects of Trinity's
    draining project, and offended by what it perceived to be a direct subterfuge of section 404 by
    permitting a landowner to drain a wetland and then claim "[p]ermit for what wetland?", the district
    court held:
           [A]s a matter of law that pursuant to the Clean Water Act, its regulations, and relevant case
           law § 404(b) of the Act requires a permit where draining a wetland presents the threat of
           significant alteration or destruction of the wetland.
    741 F.Supp. at 615.
           Despite a fact finding that "[s]ome minor discharges ha[d] occurred," and ignoring the urging
    of amici curiae—the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation—to "consider
    a supplemental basis for its ruling that takes into account discharges," the district court refused to
    consider the issue of discharge in making its decision: "Because the Court decides that the draining
    activities in this case require a § 404(b) permit, it need not rule on the issue of whether a de minimis
    discharge requires a permit." Id. at 613 n. 11. Because the parties continued to refer to al leged
    discharges in subsequent proceedings, the court continued to mention them. But it always found
    them irrelevant to its decision.
            On June 13, 1990, SOC moved for summary judgment and a permanent injunction, claiming
    that no genuine disputed issue o f fact remained following the district court's prior ruling. At this
    juncture, once again, Trinity and the Federal defendants contended that the district court lacked
    jurisdiction over the subject matter because Trinity's draining activity did not require a section 404
    permit. The district court, however, found jurisdiction and awarded summary judgment and a
    permanent injunction. It ordered SOC attorney's fees be paid by Trinity as well as costs. The court
    asserted that if Trinity's activity is "viewed as a whole," it unquestionably requires a permit.
    According to the court, "[t]o divorce the drainage of the wetlands from their subsequent filling with
    waste matter is to be blinded by abstractions and to ignore the actual controversy between the
            On appeal, Trinity challenges the district court's ruling that draining activities that significantly
    alter wetlands require a sect ion 404 permit. Trinity also takes issue with the district court's
    assessment of SOC's attorneys' fees, expenses, and court costs against it.
                                                II. DISCUSSION
                                                   A. Standing9
        As a peripheral argument, SOC contends that the Federal defendants lack standing to appeal
    because the district court declined to grant relief against them. In order to have standing to
    appeal, a party must be aggrieved by the judicial action from which it appeals. See Deposit
    Guaranty National Bank, Jackson, Mississippi v. Roper, 
    445 U.S. 326
    , 333, 
    100 S. Ct. 1166
    63 L. Ed. 2d 427
     (1980). In response, the Federal defendants concede that they potentially
    lack standing to appeal. They contend, however, that since they side with Trinity who has the
    requisite standing, the matter is of little import. Second, they are entitled to appeal because they
    were party to the suit below. In any case, they conclude, they could always file their briefs as
    amicus curiae. See Fed.R.App.P. 29. Further, the Federal defendants assert that SOC's argument
    that the district court correctly determined that it had jurisdiction over the government (an issue
    not on appeal) is somewhat inconsistent with its argument that the district court's judgment is not
    binding on the government and therefore not appealable.
            As a preliminary matter, Trinity challenges SOC's Article III standing to sue as seeking
    enforcement of the CWA under the Act's citizen suit provision.10 Standing analysis focuses upon
    "[w]hether a party has a sufficient stake in an otherwise justiciable controversy to obtain judicial
    resolution of that controversy." Sierra Club v. Morton, 
    405 U.S. 727
    , 731, 
    92 S. Ct. 1361
    , 1364, 
    31 L. Ed. 2d 636
     (1972). SOC seeks to represent the interests of its members. Such "representational
    standing" is appropriate where: "(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own
    right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (c) neither
    the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the
    lawsuit." O'Hair v. White, 
    675 F.2d 680
    , 691 (5th Cir.1982) (en banc) (quoting Hunt v. Washington
    State Apple Advertising Comm'n, 
    432 U.S. 333
    , 343, 
    97 S. Ct. 2434
    , 2441, 
    53 L. Ed. 2d 383
            Trinity asserts that SOC's individual members lack standing to pursue this suit on their own;
    consequently, SOC as an organization lacks standing. The Supreme Court in Valley Forge Christian
    College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 
    454 U.S. 464
    , 472, 
    102 S. Ct. 752
    , 758, 
    70 L. Ed. 2d 700
     (1982), enunciated the requirements for individual standing:
            [A]t an irreducible minimum, Art. III requires the party who invokes the court's authority to
            "show that he personally has suffered so me actual or threatened injury as a result of the
            putatively illegal conduct of the defendant," ... and that the injury "fairly can be traced to the
            challenged action" and "is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision."
    In its complaint, SOC defined its raison d'être as "promoting the protection of the wetlands in and
    around their communities." Further, SOC supported with affidavits the assertion that its members
    resided in the vicinity of, or owned property near the wetlands on the Skyline Landfill, and enjoyed
    "the wildlife, aesthetics, open space, ecological and other values of the wetlands, ... and [were]
    directly and beneficially interested in the continued protection, preservation, and enhancement of
                   Because the resolution of this issue has no bearing on the substantive case, we
            need not explore it further.
         The CWA confers standing to the limits of the Constitution. Under the CWA, "any citizen
    may commence a civil action." 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a). A "citizen" is "a person or persons having
    an interest which is or may be adversely affected." Id. § 1365(g).
    these values."
            We find that SOC has stated an injury sufficient to satisfy the first element of the standing
    requirement under Valley Forge. The Supreme Court held in Morton, 405 U.S. at 734–35, 92 S.Ct.
    at 1366, that harm to aesthetic, environmental, or recreational interest s is sufficient to confer
    standing, provided that the party seeking review is among the injured. Further, as the Third Circuit
    recently acknowledged, "[t]hese injuries need not be large, an "identifiable trifle' will suffice." Public
    Interest Research Group of New Jersey, Inc. v. Powell Duffryn Terminals, Inc., 
    913 F.2d 64
    , 71 (3rd
    Cir.1990) (quoting United States v. Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP),
    412 U.S. 669
    , 689 n. 14, 
    93 S. Ct. 2405
    , 2417 n. 14, 
    37 L. Ed. 2d 254
     (1973)), cert. denied, ––– U.S.
    111 S. Ct. 1018
    112 L. Ed. 2d 1100
            As the district court noted, other Courts have consistently recognized this low threshold for
    sufficiency of injury. See, e.g., United States v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD), 
    883 F.2d 54
    , 56 (8th Cir.1989) (conferring representative standing where two of the group's named
    members alleged that many of the 25,000 members have visited, crossed, and frequently observed the
    river, as well as periodically have used it for recreational purposes); Sierra Club v. Simkins
    Industries, Inc., 
    847 F.2d 1109
    , 1112 n. 3 & 1113 (4th Cir.1988) (finding injury to aesthetic and
    environmental interests sufficient where pollution would affect river along which a single group
    member hiked), cert. denied, 
    491 U.S. 904
    109 S. Ct. 3185
    105 L. Ed. 2d 694
     (1989); Friends of the
    Earth v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 
    768 F.2d 57
    , 61 (2d Cir.1985) (ho lding that two affidavits
    testifying to the recreational use of the river and finding the pollution offensive to aesthetic values
    sufficient to demonstrate injury).
             With the first element of the Valley Forge test satisfied, we turn now to the second
    factor—whether the injuries suffered by SOC's members are "fairly traceable" to Trinity's alleged
    failure to obtain a permit. Trinity acknowledges that its activities on the Skyline Landfill have
    reduced the total acreage of the ponds by half, and that the FWS has reported that, "[b]ecause the
    upper ponds have been drained, they now have considerably less value for wildlife." Further, as the
    Third and Fourth Circuits have suggested, the "fairly traceable" element does not require that the
    plaintiffs "show to a scientific certainty that defendant's effluent, and defendant's effluent alone,
    caused t he precise harm suffered by the plaintiffs." Powell Duffryn, 913 F.2d at 72; Natural
    Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Watkins, 
    954 F.2d 974
    , 980 n. 7 (4th Cir.1992). Under the
    developed tests, we find the second element satisfied.
            To meet the third requirement, SOC's members must demonstrate that their injuries are
    "likely to be redressed by a favorable decision." The redressability factor focuses upon the connection
    between the plaintiff's injury and the judicial relief sought. Allen v. Wright, 
    468 U.S. 737
    , 753 n. 19,
    104 S. Ct. 3315
    , 3325 n. 19, 
    82 L. Ed. 2d 556
     (1984). It is obvious the third element is satisfied.
    Enjoining Trinity's activities would redress the injuries suffered by SOC's members by preventing the
    further destruction of the wetlands.
             We conclude that the district court held properly that SOC, as a representational
    organization, had standing to bring this suit. SOC has shown more than a mere "general interest in
    environmental preservation."11
                                            B. Statutory Coverage
            SOC maintains that because Trinity's continued draining of, discharging into, and ultimate
         Our standing analysis need not apply the reasoning recently employed by the Supreme Court
    in Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 
    497 U.S. 871
    110 S. Ct. 3177
    111 L. Ed. 2d 695
    (1990). There, the Court faced a question of statutory, as distinguished from constitutional
    standing, see Powell Duffryn, 913 F.2d at 84 (Aldisert, J., concurring) (recognizing
    constitutional/statutory distinction in Lujan ), and addressed alleged violations under NEPA, the
    APA, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ("FLPMA"), but not the CWA.
    As the Court noted, neither the FLPMA nor NEPA provides a private right of action for
    violations of its provisions—thus judicial review of agency action was possible only if authorized
    by § 10(a) of the APA. 497 U.S. at ––––, 110 S.Ct. at 3185. Because the CWA does specifically
    provide such a private right of action, 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a), we properly employ a constitutional
    standing analysis, as opposed to a statutory analysis under the APA.
    filling of the wetlands without a permit is a violation of sections 301 and 404 of the CWA, there is
    also federal question jurisdiction. Trinity contends that because section 505, the citizen's suit
    provision, refers to a violation of an effluent standard, limitation or order, SOC is precluded from
    bringing suit against Trinity for failure to seek a permit. Trinity argues that without a discharge of
    effluent no violation exists, and no jurisdiction is created.
            Passed in 1972 with the stated objective of restoring and maint aining the integrity of the
    waters of the United States, the CWA seeks to achieve this goal "by the application of increasingly
    more stringent "effluent limitations' designed to reduce gradually the amount of pollutants discharged
    into waterways." Sierra Club v. Shell Oil Co., 
    817 F.2d 1169
    , 1173 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 
    484 U.S. 985
    108 S. Ct. 501
    98 L. Ed. 2d 500
     (1987). In precise language, the CWA prohibits "the discharge
    of any pollutant by any person" except as authorized by specific sections of the Act. 33 U.S.C. §
    1311(a).12 Specific authorization includes the discharge of "dredged or fill material" pursuant to a
    permit issued under section 404 of the CWA.13 33 U.S.C. § 1344(a). Any discharge of this material
    without such a permit is, of course, prohibited. Violations of the provisions of the CWA, may be
    redressed through a private citizen enforcement action:
            any citizen may commence a civil action on his own behalf—(1) against any person ... who
            is alleged to be in violation of (A) an effluent standard or limitation under this chapter or (B)
         The term "discharge of a pollutant" is defined by the statute as constituting "any addition of
    any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source...." 33 U.S.C. § 1362(12). The CWA
    then, in turn defines "pollutant" as the following:
                    The term "pollutant" means dredged spoil, solid waste, incinerator residue,
                    sewage, garbage, sewage sludge, munitions, chemical wastes, biological materials,
                    radioactive materials, heat, wrecked or discarded equipment, rock, sand, cellar dirt
                    and industrial, municipal, and agricultural waste discharged into water.
            33 U.S.C. § 1362(6).
         Dividing authorizing jurisdiction between the EPA and the Corps, the CWA allocates
    responsibility to the Corps to issue permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material into
    navigable waters pursuant to section 404 (33 U.S.C. § 1344). The EPA, on the other hand, is
    responsible for issuing permits for all other discharges of pollutants under section 402 (33 U.S.C.
    § 1342).
            an order issued by the Administrator or a State with respect to such a standard or limitation....
    33 U.S.C. § 1365(a). Thus, the CWA "intertwines the jurisdiction of the district court with the
    grounds for relief in a citizen enforcement action." Sierra Club, 817 F.2d at 1171. Without the
    violation of either (1) an effluent standard or limitation under the CWA, or (2) an order issued with
    respect to these standards and limitations, the district court lacks jurisdiction to act. The basic
    question is: do these requirements constitute the sole ground for coverage under the statute? The
    decision of the district court went beyond these two defined violations and found that draining a
    wetland, per se, requires a permit under section 404 of the CWA. No discharge was relied upon as
    any part of the justification by the court of its decision.
            In interpreting the statute to determine whether it covers a violation as recognized by the
    district court, "we begin, of course, with the words of the statute." Phillips v. Marine Concrete
    Structures, Inc., 
    895 F.2d 1033
    , 1035 (5th Cir.1990). In so doing, our function "is to construe the
    language so as to give effect to the intent of Congress." United States v. American Trucking Ass'ns,
    310 U.S. 534
    , 542, 
    60 S. Ct. 1059
    , 1063, 
    84 L. Ed. 1345
     (1940). The district court, in its
    interpretation of the CWA, relied heavily, if not entirely upon the Act's legislative history to divine
    its congressional intent. However, "[t]he most persuasive evidence of Congressional intent is the
    wording of the statute." Sierra Club v. Train, 
    557 F.2d 485
    , 489 (5th Cir.1977).
            By its clear and unambiguous terms, the CWA proscribes "the discharge of any pollutant by
    any person" into the waters of the United States, 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) (emphasis added). It then
    specifically requires a permit, with exceptions irrelevant in this case, "for the discharge of dredged
    or fill material" into these waters, 33 U.S.C. § 1344(a) (emphasis added). The conclusion is
    inescapable. The existence of discharge is not critical. The discharge must be of effluent or dredged
    or fill material. The discharge of effluent is not, as SOC urges, merely an aggravating factor when
    addressing whether or not a section 404 permit is required. On the face of the statute, it is the
    requirement for statutory coverage.
            The plain language of a statute cannot be wholly bypassed on the way to an interpretation
    of its more indeterminate legislative history. "Where the statute is so lucid, we need not look to the
    legislative history for further guidance." Phillips, 895 F.2d at 1035. While legislative history
    admittedly aids in discerning the parameters and purpose of an ill-defined statute, "[i]n the absence
    of a "clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary,' the language of the statute itself "must
    ordinarily be regarded as conclusive.' " United States v. James, 
    478 U.S. 597
    , 606, 
    106 S. Ct. 3116
    92 L. Ed. 2d 483
     (1986) (quoting Consumer Product Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 
    447 U.S. 102
    , 108, 
    100 S. Ct. 2051
    , 2056, 
    64 L. Ed. 2d 766
     (1980)). We conclude that the statutory
    provisions are clear and unambiguous.
            Throughout the course of this case, the EPA and the Corps have vigorously agreed with the
    conclusion that the CWA only addresses discharges of effluent. The unequivocal language found in
    their own regulations and guidelines promulgated pursuant to section 404(b) of the Act bolsters this
            The purpose of these Guidelines is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and
            biological integrity of waters of the United States through the control of discharges of
            dredged or fill material.
    40 C.F.R. 230.1(a);
            These Guidelines have been developed ... under section 404(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act (33
            U.S.C. 1344). The Guidelines are applicable to the specification of disposal sites for
            discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States.
    40 C.F.R. 230.2(a). See also 33 C.F.R. 320.2(f) (describing the Corps' authority pursuant to section
    404 of the CWA "to issue permits, after notice and opportunity for public hearing, for the discharge
    of dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States at specified disposal sites"). Further,
    33 C.F.R. 323.1 describes the Corps' program as the regulation of "discharge of dredged or fill
    material into waters of the United States".
            We accord substantial weight to these interpretations, as "[a]n agency's construction of a
    statute it is charged with enforcing is entitled to deference if it is reasonable and not in conflict with
    the expressed intent of Congress." United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc., 
    474 U.S. 121
    106 S. Ct. 455
    , 461, 
    88 L. Ed. 2d 419
     (1985) (citing Chemical Manufacturers Ass'n v. Natural
    Resources Defense Council, Inc., 
    470 U.S. 116
    , 125, 
    105 S. Ct. 1102
    , 1107–08, 
    84 L. Ed. 2d 90
    (1985)); Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 
    467 U.S. 837
    , 842–45,
    104 S. Ct. 2778
    , 2781–83, 
    81 L. Ed. 2d 694
     (1984)). Even if we would have arrived at a different
    interpretation, "if the agency's interpretation i s reasonable the court must respect it." Avoyelles
    Sportsmen's League, Inc. v. Marsh (Avoyelles III ), 
    715 F.2d 897
    , 910 (5th Cir.1983) (citing Udall
    v. Tallman, 
    380 U.S. 1
    , 16, 
    85 S. Ct. 792
    , 801, 
    13 L. Ed. 2d 616
            Recognition of the "discharge" requirement as the triggering mechanism for section 404
    coverage is by no means novel. Courts have consistently applied section 404 only after finding that
    discharges of effluent into navigable waters were involved. See, e.g., Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc.,
    474 U.S. at 124, 106 S.Ct . at 458 (holding wetlands property to be subject to Corps' section 404
    permitting authority after Corps sought to enjoin placement of fill materials on wetland area); United
    States v. Tilton, 
    705 F.2d 429
    , 430 (11th Cir.1983) (enjoining the further discharge of fill material
    "consisting of woodchips, pine bark and soil" without a section 404 permit); Florida Rock Industries,
    Inc. v. United States, 
    791 F.2d 893
    , 898 (Fed.Cir.1986) (holding that if there was no discharge of
    pollution, then the Corps "had no statutory authority to act" under section 404), cert. denied, 
    479 U.S. 1053
    107 S. Ct. 926
    93 L. Ed. 2d 978
     (1987); United States v. Larkins, 
    657 F. Supp. 76
    , 80, 85
    (W.D.Ky.1987) (requiring a section 404 permit for the "use of earthmoving equipment to construct
    earthen dikes and levees on wetlands," which had resulted in "unauthorized deposition of material into
    water of the United States"), aff'd 
    852 F.2d 189
     (6th Cir.1988), cert. denied, 
    489 U.S. 1016
    109 S. Ct. 1131
    103 L. Ed. 2d 193
            The cases relied upon by the district court in ruling that a discharge is not required to trigger
    the coverage of section 404 belie the court's conclusion. See Save Our Community v. EPA, 741
    F.Supp. at 613–15. Beginning with Avoyelles Sportsmen's League v. Marsh, 
    715 F.2d 897
    , 923–24
    (5th Cir.1983), the district court apparently did not view as critical the fact that in addressing the
    landowners' land clearing activities in Avoyelles, this Court held that the district court "correctly
    decided that the landclearing activities on the [wetland tract ] constituted a discharge within the
    meaning of the [CWA]." Affirming that the bulldozers and backhoes used in the landclearing were
    "point sources" that created discharges by collecting "into windrows and piles material that may
    ultimately have found its way back into the waters," 715 F.2d at 922, this Court held "that the
    material discharged in this case was "fill,' if not "dredged,' material and hence [was] subject to the
    Corps' regulation under section 404, as long as the activities did not fall within the section 404(f)
    exemption." Id. at 924.
           Next, the district court construed our decision in Save Our Wetlands, Inc. v. Sands, 
    711 F.2d 634
    , 647 (5th Cir.1983) to stand for the proposition that a section 404 permit will not be required
    when an activity will not convert or destroy wetlands by materially affecting their drainage patterns.
    So, conversely, the district court inferred that when wetlands are converted or destroyed in this way,
    a section 404 permit is required. Again, this reliance is misplaced. Our decision in Sands that a
    section 404 permit was not required t urned instead upon the Corps' determination that, under the
    facts and circumstances of that case, the "materials" produced by the clearing of wooded swampland
    "[did] not qualify as dredged or fill materials under [the Corps'] definitions." 711 F.2d at 647.
    Consequently, it was not, as the district court contended, the fact that the wetlands in Sands would
    not be entirely destroyed that distinguishes that case from Avoyelles Sportsmen's League v.
    473 F. Supp. 525
     (E.D.La.1979) ("Avoyelles I" ). Instead, as we specifically noted in
    Sands, "[t]he definition of fill material highlights the fundamental difference that exists between this
    case and the Avoyelles decision." 711 F.2d at 647.
            Thus, in these cases and all the other cases upon which the district court relied, the holdings
    were based upon a finding of a discharge of pollutants. We must conclude that without the existence
    of an effluent discharge of some kind, there is no coverage under section 404. There is no jurisdiction
    for the agencies or the courts to act. We must remind again that the federal government has not
    taken upon itself to resolve all environmental issues which arise in the United States. Save Barton
    Creek Ass'n v. Federal Highway Administration, 
    950 F.2d 1129
    , 1144 (5th Cir.) cert. denied, –––
    U.S. ––––, 
    112 S. Ct. 3029
    120 L. Ed. 2d 900
            Determining whether a discharge of effluent occurred in this case, therefore, becomes crucial.
    The activity at issue here involved the draining of wetlands via the use of a mechanical pump. Trinity
    utilized the water pumped to irrigate the sod cover on the landfill. While filling activity was
    indisputably contemplated after the draining had caused the area to lose its wetlands characteristics,
    Trinity undertook to avoid any and all discharges of fill, or other material, during the draining phase.
    Both the EPA and the Corps assured Trinity that if no discharges would be involved, then the
    removal of water from the ponds did not constitute a regulated activity under the CWA, and thus did
    not require a section 404 permit.
            Few cases involve the narrow issue of whether the removal of water from wetlands constitutes
    a discharge and requires a permit from the Corps. The dearth of case law on this issue is not
    surprising. We have found no suit in which the Corps undertook to prevent the removal of water
    from wetlands. In a case solidly controlling, we held that the deliberate draining of a swamp is not
    a discharge of fill material. In Orleans Audubon Society v. Lee, 
    742 F.2d 901
     (5th Cir.1984), the
    Orleans Audubon Society sued the New Orleans District of the Corps of Engineers to require the
    Corps to take action to prevent the draining of a cypress-tupelo gum swamp by C.I.T. Corporation.
    By draining and later filling the wetland area, C.I.T. intended to convert the tract for residential use.
    Orleans contended that the installation of two drainage culverts between a wetlands area and an
    adjacent drainage canal to accomplish the draining "violated the CWA because they resulted in the
    depositing of dredged or fill material into either the C.I.T. tract itself or into the [drainage canal]...."
    Id. at 910. The record explicitly showed, however, that only clear water flowed through the culverts
    into the canal,14 i.e., no discharges of effluent occurred. We held in agreement with the Corps'
    determination that there was no section 404 requirement for C.I.T. to obtain a permit for the drainage
    operation: "Clear water is not within the definition of a pollutant under the CWA." Id. at 910.
            Orleans further argued that section 404(f)(2) (related to dredged or fill material only)
    prohibited the drainage of the water from the C.I.T. tract. The drainage, Orleans maintained, was
    "incidental to an activity which is intended to bring about the conversion of a wetland, the C.I.T.
    swamp, into non-wetland area which can then be developed into a residential area without
    governmental approval." Id. n. 16. We found that, although cognizant of this possibility, as was the
    Corps, we could not require an exercise of nonexistent jurisdiction. We said that "Section 404(f)(2)
    applies only when dredged or fill material has been discharged, and water is simply not dredged or
    fill material. Orleans' assertion that vegetation from the tract (which, it argues, constitutes a
    pollutant) was also being removed through the cul verts was not supported by the record."15 Id.
    (emphasis in original).
            The district court undertook to distinguish Orleans' pivotal holding. Our finding in the body
    of the opinion was that, absent a finding of discharge, draining activity that converts a wetland does
    not trigger section 404 jurisdiction requiring a permit. Instead, the district court focused upon our
         Specifically, "[t]he Corps' on-site investigator reported that he found "no evidence of any
    discharges regulated under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.' " 742 F.2d at 910.
          At oral argument, SOC contended that the recapture provision in section 404(f)(2) should be
    read broadly, in essence, to apply outside of the context of section (f)(1). According to SOC, the
    recapture provision states that "[a]ny discharge of dredged or fill material into the navigable
    waters incidental to any activity" that converts a wetland requires a permit. Thus, since Trinity's
    drainage operation has as its purpose changing the use of the subject waters where "the reach of
    such waters" may be reduced, compliance with CWA via a permit is necessary. Under this
    interpretation, any discharge, even if de minimis, requires regulation. Although we need not
    decide this issue today, we point out that the argument contrasts with our decisions in Avoyelles
    III, 715 F.2d at 926 (stating that "[r]ead together, the two parts of section 404(f) provide a
    narrow exemption for agricultural and silvicultural activities that have little or no adverse effect
    on the nation's waters"). In Orleans, the statutory exemption under section 404(f) was not
    directly at issue, but we intimated its narrow application.
    dismissal of Orleans' claim that section 404(f)(2) applied. This limitation of the scope of Orleans led
    the district court to the conclusion that "the [Orleans ] court restricted its discussion to the limiting
    clause of § 404(f), which provides for very narrow exceptions to the permit requirement." Save Our
    Community, 741 F.Supp. at 615 n. 17. Thus, the district court held, "[t]he Orleans court's brief
    analysis cannot be understood to mean that the Act permits the wanton destruction of wetlands
    through draining activities. However, to the extent that Orleans conflicts with Avoyelles III, Save
    Our Wetlands, and York, this Court follows the path cleared by the latter decisions." Id. We did not,
    however, limit our holding to the application of section 404(f). Furthermore, our reading of these
    later cases fails to discern any divergence from our Orleans approach.
            As an alternative argument to its assertion that drainage alone requires a permit, SOC
    contends that even if draining without a discharge is not regulated under the CWA, discharging
    pollutants certainly is. According to SOC, the district court made a finding of fact that there were
    some "minor" discharges. Save Our Community, 741 F.Supp. at 609, Finding of Fact No. 14. SOC
    relies primarily on two observations by the FWS. First, it cites FWS' May 27, 1989 correspondence
    to the TDH recommending the denial Trinity's landfill permit application:
            Pumped water has been discharged into a makeshift ditch resulting in significant erosion
            above the ditch's outfall to Pond F and subsequent deposition of fill material in Pond F.
    Second, it cites other FWS correspondence to Trinity on February 22, 1990, reiterating similar
            Regarding siltation, the most prominent example noted by our staff in a site-visit on March
            14, 1989, was the deposition of recently eroded soil in Pond F resulting from water pumped
            from Pond A into a make-shift ditch.
            Trinity counters first by stating that by the district court's own admission, whether minor
    discharges have occurred or not was declared to be irrelevant to the district court's decision. The
    only basis for the court's prohibition against draining was its determination that draining is a regulated
    activity under section 404.16 Second, it asserts that the district court's finding concerning discharge
    is clearly erroneous. Under State of Missouri ex rel. Ashcroft v. Department of the Army, Corps of
    526 F. Supp. 660
    , 678 (W.D.Mo.1980), aff'd, 
    672 F.2d 1297
    , 1304 (8th Cir.1982), as a
    matter of law, erosion of soil as a result of releases of water is simply not a discharge regulated by
    the CWA. Third, finding of minor discharge is not equivalent to a finding of a violation of section
    301(a). According to Trinity, many minor discharges are authorized pursuant to broad nationwide
    permits issued under section 404(e), 33 U.S.C. § 1344(e), and 33 C.F.R. § 330.5.
            Trinity also urges that a genuine dispute concerning material facts remains on the issue as to
    whether any discharge at all occurred. At the district court level, Trinity disputed the factual accuracy
    of the discharges finding by proffering an affidavit from Trinity's Environmental Engineer
    Manager–Texas stating that Trinity would not discharge any dredged or fill material into the pond
    areas without a determination that those areas were not jurisdictional waters, if they were, a section
    404 permit would be obtained from the Corps.
            First, we emphasize that it is not contested that the district court relied exclusively on its
    finding of draining, not discharge, to find section 404 jurisdiction. The Federal defendants urge and
    even Trinity concedes, denial of the summary judgment and the remand is necessary to resolve this
    disputed factual issue. As to Trinity's second assertion, SOC seeks to characterize the siltation
    alleged as redeposited wetlands material. It cites to Avoyelles III, 715 F.2d at 923, for the
    proposition that the term "discharge" under the section 404 regulations covers the redepositing of
    materials taken from the wetlands. Faced with an incomplete factual record on this issue, we also
         The Federal defendants express a similar concern. They assert that the district court did not
    rely on the existence of a discharge as the basis for its permanent injunction, and in fact made it
    clear that such a discharge was immaterial to its decision. Further, since the district court's
    finding of a discharge was based solely on two letters from the Fish and Wildlife Service, this can
    "hardly form a firm basis" for a conclusion that discharge has in fact occurred. They assert,
    nonetheless, that if this Court accepts the argument that the CWA requires permits only for
    discharge of a pollutant, the appropriate remedy would be to remand to the district court for
    reconsideration under a correct interpretation of the CWA—potentially, whether a discharge has
    must leave its determination for the district court.
            Third, SOC maintains that contrary to Trinity's contentions, the discharges observed by FWS
    are subject to section 404 jurisdiction, even if they constitute de minimis discharges. A de minimis
    exception is not explicitly mentioned under section 404. But it is recognized in regulations exempting
    from section 404's permit requirement those activities involving only de minimis discharge. The
    Corps' current definition of "discharge of dredged material," at 33 C.F.R. 323.2(d), provides that "de
    minimis, incidental soil movement occurring during normal dredging operations" is not considered
    to be within this regulatory definition. Further, the EPA's regulations contain a similar definition with
    the same exclusion. See 40 C.F.R. 232.2(e).17 Because it is unclear from the record the extent of or
    if any prohibited discharge has occurred, we need not now consider the issue of the extent to which
    de minimis discharges require permits under section 404 of the CWA.
                                              C. Attorneys' Fees
            The district court awarded SOC attorneys' fees, expenses, and court costs as the prevailing
    party in this lawsuit. See 33 U.S.C. § 1365(d). Since we determine that the district court erred in
    finding that Trinity's activities required a permit under section 404, the award of attorneys' fees to
         Proposed rules concerning a de minimis discharge are in the commentary phase. In the
    commentary, the Corps and the EPA note that the de minimis exclusion serves in part "to avoid
    duplicative regulation of dredging itself in waters within the jurisdictional scope of the Rivers and
    Harbors Act." As the Corps and the EPA concede, however, "[o]ver the years, application of this
    "de minimis' language has become problematic, especially when applied to activities which did not
    involve dredging for the purposes of maintaining navigation in traditionally navigable waters." 57
    Fed.Reg. at 26895. Under its proposed rules, the new language would undertake to clarify by
                    [A]part from the exclusion for "normal dredging operations," the term "discharge
                    of dredged material" includes any discharge, i.e., addition or redeposition, of
                    excavated material into waters of the United States which is incidental to any
                    activity, including mechanized landclearing, ditching, channelization, or other
                    excavation, which has or would have the effect of destroying or degrading any area
                    of the waters of the United States. The term "discharge of dredged material" does
                    not include de minimis soil movement incidental to activities which do not or
                    would not have such an effect."
    SOC was not justified. See Chemical Manufacturers Ass'n v. United States EPA, 
    885 F.2d 1276
    1279 (5th Cir.1989) ("an award is usually "appropriate' when a party has advanced the goals of the
    statute invoked in the litigation").
                                            III. CONCLUSION
            We hold that the wetlands draining activity per se does not require a section 404 permit under
    the CWA, as only activities involving discharges of effluent necessitate obtaining such a permit.
    Consequently, we dissolve the injunction. Further, viewing the evidence and drawing all inferences
    in the light most favorable to Trinity, the non-moving party, we conclude that there are disputed
    issues of material fact regarding the existence of the exact nature of a discharge alleged. Bozé v.
    912 F.2d 801
    , 804 (5th Cir.1990) (per curiam). Because the existence, nature, and
    extent, including redepositing, of an alleged discharge was not considered by the district court, we
    reverse the summary judgment and remand to the court, as coverage of the statute turns upon this
    determination. We find the mandate of the statute is clear.

Document Info

DocketNumber: 91-7012

Filed Date: 9/10/1992

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 12/21/2014

Authorities (35)

United States v. Amer. Trucking Ass'ns. , 310 U.S. 534 ( 1940 )

Udall v. Tallman , 380 U.S. 1 ( 1965 )

Sierra Club v. Morton , 405 U.S. 727 ( 1972 )

United States v. Students Challenging Regulatory Agency ... , 412 U.S. 669 ( 1973 )

Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Comm'n , 432 U.S. 333 ( 1977 )

Deposit Guaranty Nat. Bank v. Roper , 445 U.S. 326 ( 1980 )

Consumer Product Safety Comm'n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc. , 447 U.S. 102 ( 1980 )

Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for ... , 454 U.S. 464 ( 1982 )

Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. , 467 U.S. 837 ( 1984 )

Allen v. Wright , 468 U.S. 737 ( 1984 )

Chemical Manufacturers Assn. v. NRDC , 470 U.S. 116 ( 1985 )

United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc. , 474 U.S. 121 ( 1985 )

United States v. James , 478 U.S. 597 ( 1986 )

Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation , 497 U.S. 871 ( 1990 )

Sierra Club v. Russell Train, Administrator of the ... , 557 F.2d 485 ( 1977 )

state-of-missouri-ex-rel-john-ashcroft-missouri-clean-water-commission , 672 F.2d 1297 ( 1982 )

Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Society of Separationists, Inc. v.... , 675 F.2d 680 ( 1982 )

United States v. John v. Tilton, Brenda Tilton and I.T.T. ... , 705 F.2d 429 ( 1983 )

Save Our Wetlands, Inc. v. Colonel Thomas Sands, Etc., (Two ... , 711 F.2d 634 ( 1983 )

the-avoyelles-sportsmens-league-inc-cross-appellants-v-john-o-marsh , 715 F.2d 897 ( 1983 )

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