A U.S. District Court judge yesterday struck down federal water pollution controls on hazardous chemcials, ruling that the guidelines exceed what Congress intended.
Judge Earl E. Veron of Louisiana's Western District said the Environmental Protection Agency's new rules governing the discharge of 271 hazardous chemicals are "invalid, void, unenforceable and of no legal effect."
Veron's decision prevents the federal agency from enacting the hazardous waste and chemical spill regulations which were part of the 1977 Clean Water Act. Veron's ruling, unless overturned on appeal, will be effective nationwide.
"It appears that as of Friday we don't have a program covering the spills or discharges of these hazardous materials', 'said Donald W. Fowler of the U.S. Justice Department who served as legal counsel for EPA. Fowler said EPA has not yet decided whether to accept the decision or to seek an appeal from a higher court.
Veron's ruling was the climax of more than two months of court litigation in which industrial representatives argued that the new pollution control standards and accompanying violation penalties were too harsh and went beyond the powers granted by Congress.
The court issued a temporary injunction against EPA June 8. Both EPA and plaintiffs appeared before the judge for a summary judgment hearing June 24. The EPA regulations were to have gone into effect Aug. 11.
"This means now we have no rules governing hazardous substance discharge, no penalties or liabilities on spills covering these 271 chemicals, no required reporting of the discharge of these waste," said Kenneth Mackenphun, a director of the Water Planning Standards division of EPA who was principal author of the hazardous chemical regulations.
According to Mackenphun, the regulations concerning spills and discharges of the chemicals were implemented in March 1978, but were quashed by the court less then three months later when industrial representatives led by the Manufacturing Chemists Association filed suit for the injunction.
No regulations specifically had governed hazardous substances before the enactment of the new regulations, Mackenphun said.
"We do not view this decision as a victory for those who would pollute our waters with impunity (as some might interpret it) nor as a defeat for those who are fighting the worthly battle to protect our environment," the court said in its decision.
The court continued, "We are concerned solely and completely with ensuring that regulations promulgated by a governmental body which are aimed at controlling the activities of private business and citizens have been developed in compliance with the relevant legislative policies . . . in a manner which is not arbitrary and capricious."
During the summary judgement hearing held on June 24, industry groups argued that, if enforced, the new standards would force hundreds of industries and most barge and operators out of business. This, they said, would result in layoffs of thousands of workers.