Sunday, October 14, 2012

EPA Notifies Court, Seeks Time to Evaluate DWSD Plans to Cut its Workforce

On October 12, 2012, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked Judge Sean Cox for 45 days to evaluate DWSD's recently-announced plan to dramatically cut its workforce and  to take no further actions toward implementing the plan during this evaluation period. 

In a two page document(*) filed with the U. S. District Court captioned "Notice of the United States Regarding the DWSD's Motion for Interim Order," EPA Attorney Annette M. Lang, and Assistant U. S. Attorney Peter A. Caplan request that the Court give the EPA time to evaluate DWSD's proposal and whether it would affect compliance with the Clean Water Act:
"The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ("MDEQ") recently informed EPA about a proposal that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department ("DWSD") was considering that recommended, inter alia, a dramatic reduction in staffing level within DWSD's wastewater treatment plan and combined sewer overflow operations. EPA has not had the opportunity to review and evaluate the potential impact and implications of the proposal on DWSD's compliance with the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1251, et seq, and its NPDES permit, including the operation and maintenance requirements contained therein. To the extent that actions by this Court on DWSD's Motion for Interim Order may open the way for DWSD's initiation of the implementation of that proposal, EPA seeks to notify this Court and the parties of its interest in having the opportunity to meaningfully undertake an evaluation of the proposal prior to any such action. 
"During the period of its evaluation of the proposal, EPA plans to work with both MDEQ and DWSD. To that end, managers and staff from EPA are already planning to meet with managers and staff from MDEQ on Tuesday, October 16, 2012, to discuss and evaluate the current situation. The meeting is intended to provide further clarification on a path forward. 
"With this notice, EPA is not taking any position on any aspect of the proposal before DWSD.  
"Accordingly, EPA seeks a period of forth-five (45) days to evaluate the potential impacts of the proposal on CWA compliance and asks this Court not to take any actions that would open the way for DWSD to initiate the implementation of the proposal prior to that time. DWSD has not reported any violations of its NPDES numeric limitations on solids since November 2011 and has not reported any other NPDES numeric limitations since March of this year [2012]. Therefore, nothing in the record would indicate that immediate commencement of the implementation of the proposal is required." (emphasis added)

Note: The case that Judge Cox currently presides over was originally filed in 1977 by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce compliance with the Clean Water Act. The EPA has not played an active role in the case, however, for a number of years. The EPA's request that Judge Cox 'take no action' for 45 days is an interesting development. Judge Cox is not bound to comply with the EPA's request, but it is unlikely that he would simply ignore it. Stay tuned for how the Court and DWSD responds to the EPA's request.

(*) For readers with a PACER Account, the EPA's Notice was filed 10/12/12 in Case No. 2:77-cv-71100-SFC at Dkt #2492. If you're interested in a copy, I'd be glad to e-mail it to you. Just write me and put "EPA Notice" in the reference field.   

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