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Upper Missouri Waterkeeper v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Supreme Court of Montana

April 9, 2019

UPPER MISSOURI WATERKEEPER, Plaintiff and Appellant,
MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY, Defendant and Appellee, and THE CITY OF BILLINGS, Defendant, Intervenor and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 13, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DV-16-983B Honorable Rienne H. McElyea, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Guy Alsentzer, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Bozeman, Montana

          For Appellee: William W. Mercer, Brianne McClafferty, Holland & Hart LLP, Billings, Montana (for City of Billings), Kurt R. Moser, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Helena, Montana



         ¶1 Plaintiff Upper Missouri Waterkeeper (Waterkeeper) appeals the order of the I Eighteenth District Court, Gallatin County, denying Waterkeeper's Motion for Summary I Judgment, granting the Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment of the Defendant Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Intervenor-Defendant the City of; Billings, and affirming DEQ's decision to issue Montana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MPDES) Permit No. MTR040000 (the General Permit). We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

1. Whether the General Permit complies -with public participation requirements?
2. Whether DEQ's decision to incorporate construction and post-construction storm water pollution controls into the General Permit was unlawful, arbitrary, or capricious?
3. Whether DEQ incorporating Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) into the General Permit was unlawful, arbitrary, or capricious?
4. Whether DEQ's decision to incorporate pollution monitoring requirements into the General Permit was unlawful, arbitrary, or capricious?


         ¶3 In 1972, Congress enacted the modern version of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, more commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA's stated objective is "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." The CWA set a goal of eliminating the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters of the United States by 1985. To make progress towards this goal, Congress established a permitting system known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which is administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

         ¶4 The CWA allows for states to administer their own permits, and in 1974 the State of Montana and EPA signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), which transferred the responsibility of issuing NPDES permits within Montana to DEQ.[1] DEQ issues permits under the Montana Pollution Discharge Elimination System (MPDES). EPA continues to review, comment on, and/or make recommendations to DEQ regarding proposed permits. Under the MO A, if EPA does not object to a proposed permit, its non-objection "shall be considered as concurrence" in the issuing of the permit.

         ¶5 Because pollution into the nation's waters was not eliminated by 1985, the CWA has been amended in the years since. Following the enactment of the CWA, EPA discovered that a driver of pollution is discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s). The CWA was then amended by Congress in 1987 to add provisions addressing storm water discharges from certain municipalities-and set deadlines for permits regarding MS4s serving populations of 250, 000 or more (large MS4s) and those serving populations of more than 100, 000 but less than 250, 000 (medium MS4s). The 1987 CWA amendments further required EPA, "in consultation with State and local officials," to study and regulate additional storm water discharges as needed to protect water quality. This led to the eventual regulation of certain MS4 systems serving populations of less than 100, 000 (small MS4s). MS4 discharge permits may be issued either as an individual permit to a single MS4 or as a general permit to a group of MS4s. Montana has no large or medium MS4s.

         ¶6 As part of its further regulation of storm water discharges, EPA issued its "Phase I Rule" in 1990, which addressed large and medium MS4s. Nine years later, in 1999, EPA issued its "Phase II Rule" which addressed small MS4s. While all MS4 discharge permits must include terms and conditions to "reduce the discharge of pollutants" from the MS4 to the maximum extent practicable (MEP), small MS4s were able to choose to either be regulated as if they were large or medium MS4s under 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(d) or to include six minimum control measures (MCM) within their storm water management programs (SWMP).[2] The six MCMs constitute narrative effluent limitations requiring the implementation of best management practices (BMPs), which EPA determined to be "generally the most appropriate form of effluent limitations" regarding small MS4s.[3] The six MCMs are: (1) public education and outreach on storm water impacts; (2) public involvement/participation; (3) illicit discharge detection and elimination; (4) construction i site storm water runoff control; (5) post-construction storm water management in new development and redevelopment; and (6) pollution prevention/good housekeeping for municipal operations. EPA further determined that implementation of BMPs consistent with provisions of the SWMP constituted compliance with the standard of reducing pollutants to the "maximum extent practicable." EPA "intentionally" did not provide "a precise definition of MEP to allow maximum flexibility in MS4 permitting."

         ¶7 DEQ is responsible for administering the provisions of the Montana Water Quality Act (MWQA), one of which is the issuance of MPDES permits. In 2003, the Montana Board of Environmental Review (BER) first adopted rules for the small MS4 MPDES permit program to comply with the requirements of the CWA. In accordance with these rules, small MS4s in Montana include the cities of Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, and Kalispell (collectively MS4 cities), portions of Yellowstone, Missoula, and Cascade counties, as well as Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana State University, and the University of Montana.

         ¶8 DEQ issued the first five-year MS4 general permit in 2005 and the second in 2010. In 2014, DEQ began working on the third MS4 general permit and convened meetings involving stakeholders, including the MS4 cities. The MS4 cities, as a result of these meetings, proposed that DEQ extend the 2010 general permit for a period of two years while the MS4 cities, DEQ, and other stakeholders formed a storm water working group to develop a new MS4 general permit. DEQ agreed to this arrangement, and issued an MS4 general permit effective from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2016.

         ¶9 Beginning in January 2015, the storm water working group convened monthly meetings. The storm water working group included the MS4 cities, DEQ, EPA, representatives from the three MS4 counties, Montana State University, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Waterkeeper, Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), and the Clark Fork Coalition. The storm water working group met monthly until April 2016 as r DEQ developed the proposed 2017 general permit. On September 19, 2016, DEQ issued a public notice stating its intention to hold a public hearing on the issuance of the 2017 draft permit, and provided information on obtaining a copy of the draft permit, accompanying fact sheet and environmental assessment, and how the public could provide comments regarding the ...

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