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WILLIAMSPORT SANITARY AUTH. v. TRAIN

February 6, 1979

WILLIAMSPORT SANITARY AUTHORITY, Plaintiff,
v.
Russell E. TRAIN, Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HERMAN

Plaintiff, the Williamsport Sanitary Authority ("Authority") is a publicly owned municipal authority which provides sewage treatment for Williamsport, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. The Defendant is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and pursuant to 33 U.S.C. § 1281 Et seq. is charged with the responsibility of administering the construction grant program for sewage treatment facilities under, Inter alia, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 ("1972 Amendments"), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251 Et seq. and 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706.

 Plaintiff's action seeks declaratory, injunctive and mandamus relief under § 206(a) of the 1972 Amendments, 33 U.S.C. § 1286(a), in order to compel the Defendant to perform his alleged obligations under this statutory provision and to prohibit him from paying money owing to the Authority under this statutory provision to other parties, particularly to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Both parties agree that the amount in controversy is $ 441,350, $ 198,600 of which was already paid to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in May of 1974, and the remaining $ 242,750 of which has been allotted for but has not yet been paid to the Commonwealth.

 Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings which asserts the following four arguments: (1) That the federal grant program in question involves a great deal of discretionary rather than simply ministerial duties, and therefore mandamus relief should be deemed unavailable to alter an established federal policy; (2) That Plaintiff's request for relief would adjudicate Pennsylvania's right to the funds now in its possession while Pennsylvania is not a party to this action, and therefore any adjudication of this matter would be a deprivation of Pennsylvania's due process rights; (3) That this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because in reality Plaintiff's claim is one against the United States for money damages and only the Court of Claims has jurisdiction in such matters; and (4) That the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution precludes suits by the Authority against Pennsylvania in federal court and the Plaintiff should not be permitted to use declaratory, injunctive and mandamus relief against the Defendant to the indirect detriment of Pennsylvania.

 Some of the relevant and uncontradicted background information pertaining to this matter is as follows. The Authority's initial facilities were constructed in 1953 at a cost of $ 5,100,000, which cost was born solely by the Authority. Subsequent to that time the Authority began to upgrade and expand its sewage treatment facilities and in February of 1970 applied for a 30% Federal grant for this purpose. This upgrading and expansion project had an eligible cost for funding purposes of $ 4,012,200. In September of 1970 the Authority was advised by federal officials to apply for a 40% Federal grant and a 20% State grant, which the Authority successfully did under 33 U.S.C. § 1158(b) and 32 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5101 Et seq. In addition, the Authority also received a 10% Planning grant under 33 U.S.C. § 1158(f). Therefore, of the Authority's $ 4,102,200 of eligible costs it received federal funding in the amount of $ 1,765,360 and state funding in the amount of $ 802,440. The Authority bore the remaining $ 1,444,400 of eligible costs.

 At the time the Authority was awarded the 40% Federal grant it was aware that other Pennsylvania communities were receiving either 50% Or 55% Federal funding. An inquiry into this situation revealed that the reason the Authority did not qualify for this more favorable funding was that Pennsylvania had failed to enact required water qualities standards for the waters into which the Authority's facilities discharge their outflow.

 By letter dated November 22, 1972 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources advised the Authority to apply for a grant under § 206(a) of the 1972 Amendments, and in so doing specifically advised that "you (the Authority) are urged promptly to apply for funding for which your municipality or authority may be eligible". The Authority thus filed an application for the additional § 206(a) funds and the Defendant apparently initially determined that the Authority was entitled to an additional grant of $ 441,350 pursuant to § 206(a) of the 1972 Amendments, which would place the Authority's total federal funding at 55% Of eligible costs. On April 16, 1974, the Defendant took reimbursement action by naming the Authority as "grantee" of $ 220,700, or approximately one-half of the total $ 441,350 reimbursement due. However, the Defendant thereafter Changed its designation of the grantee of the said $ 220,700 and paid $ 198,600 of this amount to Pennsylvania so that these funds could be used for the financing of New sanitary sewage projects. As noted above, Plaintiff has requested declaratory, injunctive and mandamus relief so that It rather than the Commonwealth shall be made the recipient of the full $ 441,350 federal grant.

 In 1972 the federal grant program for sewage projects was extensively amended by the 1972 Amendments, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251 Et seq. Pursuant to § 202 thereof, 33 U.S.C. § 1282, all federal grants from funds authorized after June 30, 1971 may total 75% Of the projects' eligible costs. Section 206(a) of the Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1286(a), The controlling statutory provision at issue here, provides for supplemental grants where construction projects were begun after June 30, 1966, but before July 1, 1972, the effective date of the 1972 Amendments. Section 206(a) provides the following:

 
"Any Publicly owned treatment works in a State on which construction was initiated after June 30, 1966, but before July 1, 1972, which was approved by the appropriate State water pollution control agency and which the Administrator finds meets the requirements of Section 8 of this Act in effect at the time of the initiation of construction Shall be reimbursed a total amount equal to the difference between the amount of Federal financial assistance, if any, received under such Section 8 for such project and 50 per centum of the cost of such project, or 55 per centum of the project cost where the Administrator also determines that such treatment works was constructed in conformity with a comprehensive metropolitan treatment plan as described in Section 8(f) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act as in effect immediately prior to the date of enactment of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972. Nothing in this subsection shall result in any such works receiving Federal grants from all sources in excess of 80 per centum of the cost of such project." (Emphasis added.)

 Plaintiff's position in this lawsuit is that the above language mandates *fn1" the Defendant to pay all § 206(a) reimbursements directly to the entity charged with the construction of the "publicly owned treatment works" which were constructed during the pertinent period and not to another party, such as a state. Defendant argues that the term "publicly owned treatment works" does not designate any particular sanitary district, municipality, municipal authority, state or other entity, but rather extends to the Defendant ample discretion to determine to whom such funds should be most equitably and effectively paid. Defendant points to some of the Congressional history behind § 206(a) as support for his proposition. Plaintiff, on the other hand, argues that § 206(a) of the Act is free from ambiguity in mandating the Defendant to reimburse Only the publicly owned treatment works itself so that It receives its maximum share of Federal funding, and in so arguing correctly notes that any funding granted by Pennsylvania was not done so pursuant to any act which required reimbursement, federal or otherwise.

 A determination of the dispute here must be broken down into two parts, one concerning the $ 242,750 not yet appropriated to either the Authority or Pennsylvania and the other concerning the $ 198,600 which was already appropriated to Pennsylvania in May of 1974. The approximately $ 242,750 not yet appropriated to either the Plaintiff or the Commonwealth shall first be addressed.

 To begin, it is clear that § 206(a) of the 1972 Amendments, 33 U.S.C. § 1286(a), is Not the ambiguous statutory provision which Defendant portrays it to be. Clearly this provision requires that "(Any) Publicly owned treatment works . . . Shall be Reimbursed a total amount equal to the difference between the amount of Federal financial assistance, if any, received under such Section 8 for such project and 50 per centum of the cost of such project, or 55 per centum of the project cost where the Administrator also determines that such treatment works was constructed in conformity with a comprehensive metropolitan treatment plan . . . ." This language unambiguously mandates that reimbursement (which means to pay Back ) be made "To ", and Not merely on behalf of or on account of, the publicly owned treatment works where Federal financial assistance did not total 50% Or 55%, whichever applies. *fn2" No consideration of any state assistance received is authorized by § 206(a).

 (3, 4) Because § 206(a) is free from ambiguity there is really no need to look behind its language to its legislative history in order to interpret it, as the Defendant urges. Patagonia Corp. v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 517 F.2d 803 (9th Cir. 1975). However, a view of the legislative history of § 206(a) does not particularly support the Defendant's position. The Senate report on the bill introducing the 1972 Amendments states, Inter alia, that "Section 206 provides for reimbursement to state, municipalities, intermunicipal agencies, or interstate agencies for projects constructed By them for which the full Federal contribution to which They were entitled was not received." (Emphasis added). Senate Report No. 92-414, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, 1972, pp. 3668, 3698. The Authority and not Pennsylvania constructed the sewage facilities here involved, and the Authority and Not Pennsylvania was the rightful recipient of the partial federal contributions therefor. The Senate report further states that "(T)he 50% Retroactive payment does not alter the right of some Communities, to receive a retroactive payment of 55% If that project fully qualified for 55% Grant prior to the enactment of this Act." Senate Report No. 92-414, U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, p. 3700. Furthermore, the Senate bill limited the uses to which the recipient of § 206(a) funds could put such moneys to either the retirement of "a project's indebtedness" or to the financing of "a local share of a new project". Indeed, even the legislative history cited by Defendant reflects that the entity which Constructed the pertinent sewage facilities is the one entitled to reimbursement funds under § 206(a). Legislative History of the Act, at page 1449. Thus, it is clear from the legislative history of § 206(a), as well as its plain language, that the entity which was actually responsible for the construction of the pertinent sewage facilities, That being the entity which was originally "short-changed" by an unavailability of full federal funding, is the entity which is entitled to reimbursement funds pursuant to § 206(a).


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