Friday, March 22, 2013

Supreme Court Upholds Agency Decision, Delivers Blow to Environmental Groups
Oregon GOP pushes logging (
The Supreme Court issued a ruling last Wednesday on a case regarding the decision of the US Forest Service to not require Environmental Protection Agency permitting for storm-water runoff resulting from logging roads. The ruling ends a legal battle that began in 2006 with the Northwest Environmental Defense Center. The environmental group sought to force the EPA to take action against the logging company, Georgia-Pacific West.

Storm water runoff, resulting from Georgia-Pacific West's logging roads, carried heavy sediment into two rivers flowing through Tillamook State Forest. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority (7-1), stated that discharges from logging roads are significant in rainy Oregon, and can contain “large amounts of sediment” which “can harm fish and other aquatic organisms.” Environmental groups had relied on the permitting process to protect forest streams.

The case touched on administrative policy issues; specifically, the amount to which agencies are accorded deference by the courts. Justice Kennedy explains, “When an agency interprets its own regulation, the Court, as a general rule, defers to it unless that interpretation is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation,” he said. “The EPA’s interpretation is a permissible one.”

Justice Antonin Scalia
wrote a dissent nearly as long as the decision itself. He took issue with the ability of the agency to interpret its own regulations. The permissive approach by the court, he said, would allow regulatory agencies to float free of limits and bounds contained in the text of its rules. This case sets the stage for a high court showdown regarding the extent of judicial deference due to a federal agency when it interprets its own rules.

The case is Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

Angelica Oman
Graduate Program Assistant

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