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EPA Changes Policy, Angering Justices on Supreme Court

Justices from the Supreme Court chastised the Obama administration for unexpected changes in rules for a key environmental dispute that caused uncertainty in the Supreme Court on Monday, according to a report from CNN. On Friday, final rules issued by the EPA exempted logging road runoff from storm water permit requirements. The EPA said that timber firms are allowed to use “best management practices” that are good for local conditions.

Those rules changes occurred just days prior to the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments for two cases regarding the financial and health effects that storm water drainage creates.

“Maybe in the future you could let us know when something as definite as that comes” late, Chief Justice John Roberts told the lawyer for the Justice Department. Roberts also offered the suggestion of delaying arguments so both sides of the case and the court could properly prepare.

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The issue in the cases comes from whether or not logging road operators have to acquire discharge permits from the federal government’s Clean Water Act. Those permits are for ditches, culverts and drains that channel rain runoff from the roads. Scientists claim that sediment from muddy water can be harmful to plants, fish and other wildlife, most often miles away from the source.

The first lawsuit was filed by an environmental group from Oregon regarding the dirt roads in the Tillamook State Forest, which is near streams that have migrating salmon. Those areas include the Sam Downs Roads and the Trask River. The group is called the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and it won an in federal appeals court last year.

After the group won its appeal, timber companies and state officials asked the Supreme Court to get involved in the case. They argued that federal rules would be burdensome and cut jobs in an industry that is already struggling financially in the Pacific northwest of the country.

Pollutants are not permitted to be discharged into American waters because of the Clean Water Act. Those pollutants include contaminated soil, sand and rock. The Obama Administration has made it known that it supports the timber industry and the state of Oregon in the case. The administration told the Supreme Court that the EPA and Congress was working to reduce future environmental damage without adding a regulatory scheme.

Oregon’s attorney, Timothy Bishop, said that the justices have to decide the issue even though the EPA took action already.

“Are you sure you want what you’re asking for,” said Roberts. “What if we go ahead and decide this case and rule against you?”

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