The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority in trying to regulate storm water as it would a pollutant, a federal judge in Alexandria ruled Thursday.
The decision, a victory for Fairfax County and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), came six months after the county and state filed a lawsuit against the EPA over its attempt to regulate the amount of water flowing through Fairfax’s Accotink Creek watershed as a means of controlling sediment buildup.
County and state officials called it a massive regulatory overreach that would have devastated economic development and cost taxpayers millions in unnecessary expenses.
In his ruling, Judge Liam O’Grady agreed, saying that such a requirement went beyond the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act.
“The ruling will save millions of dollars now and much more in the future,” Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said in a statement. “It is a positive victory for the taxpayers of Virginia.”
Had the EPA been allowed to go forward, McDonnell said, the Virginia Department of Transportation would have had to spend at least $70 million to comply, and Fairfax would have had to come up with at least $300 million.
The case garnered national interest.
Cuccinelli argued it in Alexandria in December. “There’s a lot at stake here,” he said after the hearing. “It means a lot to me to not see Fairfax County saddled with this.”
Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said it was difficult for her majority-Democrat board to sign onto a lawsuit against the EPA with arch-conservative Cuccinelli. “I know a lot people were scratching their heads over that,” Bulova said Thursday.
She said she supported the suit because, on top of potentially devastating economic consequences, she believes that the EPA’s rule would have done nothing to help the environment. She said the county is already taking steps that will do far more.
“We’re willing to spend money to protect our watersheds, our drinking water and the Chesapeake Bay,” Bulova said. “But we want to make sure that money is well spent.”