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Riverkeeper, Inc. v. Pruitt

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 20, 2018

SCOTT PRUITT, Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency; PETER D. LOPEZ, Regional Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2; and THE UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, Defendants.

          TODD D. OMMEN Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Inc. White Plains, NY Counsel for Plaintiffs

          GEOFFREY S. BERMAN Acting United States Attorney for The Southern District of New York BY: REBECCA S. TINIO New York, NY Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER


         Before me is the motion of Defendants United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), Scott Pruitt, and Peter D. Lopez[1] (collectively, “Defendants”) for a stay of proceedings until April 16, 2018. (Doc. 39.) Because I find that the various factors concerning whether a stay should be granted decidedly favor denying a stay, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiffs Riverkeeper, Inc., Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., Raritan Baykeeper, Inc., Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, Newtown Creek Alliance, Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, and Hudson River Watertrail Association (collectively, “Plaintiffs”)-a group of non-profit organizations engaged in environmental advocacy on behalf of communities in and around New York-bring this citizen action pursuant to the Clean Water Act (the “CWA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”) requesting an injunction to compel Defendants to comply with their allegedly non-discretionary duties under the CWA. (Compl. ¶¶ 42-58.)[2]

         Section 303 of the CWA requires a state to submit new or revised water quality standards to EPA for review. 33 U.S.C. § 1313(c)(2)(A). When a state submits a new or revised standard, EPA approves the standard within sixty days or disapproves the standard and specifies the changes required to meet the requirements of the CWA within ninety days. Id. § 1313(c)(3). “If such changes are not adopted by the State within ninety days after the date of notification, the [EPA] Administrator shall promulgate such standard pursuant to paragraph (4) of this subsection.” Id.

         On November 4, 2015, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) adopted water quality standards (the “2015 NY Standards”) for its Class I and S.D. waters, (Ommen Decl. Ex. A, at 1), [3] which are generally defined as “saline surface waters” and are used for a variety of purposes, including swimming, boating, and recreational fishing, (id. at 2). NYSDEC submitted these revisions to EPA on February 24, 2016. (Id. at 1.) On May 9, 2016, EPA responded with a letter notifying NYSDEC that it was “not taking action” on the relevant revisions, but indicating that it “has not supported” a component of the revised standard since 1986 and that it “continue[s] to expect NYSDEC to adopt the 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria (RWQC) for all primary contact recreation waters in the State, including Class I and S.D. waters, as soon as possible.” (Id. at 2-3.) To date, NYSDEC has not adopted the 2012 RWQC, nor has EPA promulgated a new standard on behalf of New York State.

         Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on June 29, 2017, alleging that Defendants have failed to comply with the mandatory requirements of the CWA because they have not promulgated a standard on behalf of New York State that reflects the standards required by the CWA, or in the alternative, because they have not approved or disapproved the 2015 NY Standards. (Compl. ¶¶ 42-58.) On November 30, 2017 Defendants filed a motion to stay the litigation. (Docs. 39-41.) Plaintiffs opposed the motion on December 8, 2017, (Docs. 51-52), and Defendants filed their reply on December 15, 2017, (Doc. 55).

         In their papers, Defendants state that EPA is currently assisting NYSDEC to develop updated water quality standards that adopt the 2012 RWQC and address Plaintiffs' concerns (the “Updated NY Standards”). (Defs.' Mem. 3.)[4] NYSDEC intends to submit the Updated NY Standards to the New York Department of State (“NYDOS”) for public notice and comment by the end of March 2018. (Defs.' Mem. 3; Gratz Decl. ¶¶ 4-5, Ex. A.)[5] If, after the state rulemaking process is completed, New York State adopts the Updated NY Standards, they would be submitted to the EPA for review under Section 303 of the CWA. (Defs.' Mem. 3; Gratz Decl. ¶ 13.) Defendants claim that litigating this matter would divert considerable resources at EPA that are currently being used to provide technical assistance to develop the Updated NY Standards. (Defs.' Mem. 6; Gratz Decl. ¶ 15.) The state rulemaking process, in Defendants' view, is a more efficient route towards achieving Plaintiffs' ultimate goal, which is adoption of water quality standards in compliance with the 2012 RWQC. (Defs.' Mem. 6.) Plaintiffs disagree, asserting that the state rulemaking process is long and far from certain in achieving their desired result, which is EPA's compliance with the requirements of the CWA. (Pls.' Opp. 5-8.)[6]

         II. Legal Standard

         “[T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants.” Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). Therefore, whether or not to stay a proceeding is “firmly within a district court's discretion.” LaSala v. Needham & Co., 399 F.Supp.2d 421, 427 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (quoting Am. Shipping Line, Inc. v. Massan Shipping Indus., Inc., 885 F.Supp. 499, 502 (S.D.N.Y. 1995)). District courts in this Circuit consider five factors in determining whether to issue a stay:

(1) the private interests of the plaintiffs in proceeding expeditiously with the civil litigation as balanced against the prejudice to the plaintiffs if delayed; (2) the private interests of and burden on the defendants; (3) the interests of the courts; (4) the interests of persons not parties to the civil litigation; and (5) the public interest.

Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. v. U.S. E.P.A., 630 F.Supp.2d 295, 304 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (citation omitted). The “basic goal” in considering these factors “is to avoid prejudice.” Id ...

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