Roman lawyers were timed by water clocks which they realized could be slowed by the addition of dirt or sand and thereby gaining more time to argue. Hence lawyers are often cited for “muddying the waters.” In the case challenging the US Environmental Protection Agency’s stormwater rules for construction sites, it is the court that has muddied the waters. By holding the suit in abeyance, but keeping the problematic standard in place, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has managed to confuse all of the parties.
The USEPA issued construction stormwater rules in December 2009, which were immediately challenged by the National Association of Home Builders and Wisconsin Builders Association in the Seventh Circuit as concerns the numeric turbidity value. The rules were scheduled to go into effect on February 1, 2010. EPA then filed an unopposed motion to vacate the numeric limitation pending a study to issue a new rule in November 2012. The Seventh Circuit essentially denied the motion as to vacating the numeric turbidity standard but apparently agreed to hold the suit in abeyance until February 2012 by granting the EPA’s motion “to the extent that the case is remanded to the EPA for further proceedings.” Thus, the numeric limitation stands: it is enforceable even though EPA has admitted in its brief that the process by which it was developed was flawed. A truly muddy situation.
John H. Klock is a Director in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department.