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FAIRVIEW TWP. v. UNITED STATES EPA

September 27, 1984

FAIRVIEW TOWNSHIP, COUNTY OF YORK, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, NORTHERN YORK COUNTY REGIONAL JOINT SEWAGE AUTHORITY, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MUIR

 1. Introduction.

 This case involves a dispute between the Northern York County Regional Joint Sewage Authority (Authority), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (DER) regarding the Authority's application for a grant under the Federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251, et seq., for the purpose of constructing a sewage treatment system. The Defendants in this case include the EPA, the Administrator of the EPA and various EPA officials (hereinafter the Federal Defendants). Also named as Defendants are the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources and its Secretary (hereinafter the State Defendants).

 In an order dated March 26, 1984, this Court referred to United States Magistrate J. Andrew Smyser the motion of the State Defendants to dismiss this case and the motion of the Federal Defendants to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment. On July 6, 1984, the Magistrate issued his report and recommendation on these motions. The Plaintiffs filed objections to the Magistrate's report on July 16, 1984. Other proceedings in this case are discussed in Magistrate Smyser's July 6, 1984 report and need not be repeated here. Because the Authority has filed lengthy and detailed objections to the Magistrate's report, we have reviewed this case and the issues raised by the Defendants' motions de novo. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

 The Plaintiffs claim jurisdiction of their claims in this Court under the citizen's suit provision of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1365, the Federal Mandamus Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1361, and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706. The Magistrate concluded in his report that because the citizen's suit provision of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1365, provides a remedy for the alleged failure of the federal defendants to perform a mandatory duty, jurisdiction under the mandamus statute and the Administrative Procedure Act is precluded. As will be discussed below, we question whether the citizen's suit statute provides the remedy which the Plaintiffs seek in this case. Nevertheless, we agree with Magistrate Smyser that to the extent that this Court has jurisdiction of the Plaintiffs' claims, our jurisdiction is based on the specific provision of the Clean Water Act and that basis of jurisdiction precludes jurisdiction under the more general provisions of the mandamus statute and the Administrative Procedure Act. See Magistrate's Report at 13; Allegheny County Sanitary Authority v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 732 F.2d 1167, 1176-77 (3d Cir. 1984).

 2. The Statutes.

 As noted above, the exclusive jurisdictional basis for the Plaintiffs' claims in this case is the citizen's suit provision of the Federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1365. Section 1365 provides, among other things, that ". . . any citizen may commence a civil action on his own behalf . . . against the Administrator [of the EPA] where there is alleged a failure of the Administrator to perform any act or duty under this chapter which is not discretionary with the Administrator." 33 U.S.C. § 1365(a)(2). The Section goes on to provide for jurisdiction in the district courts "to order the Administrator to perform such act or duty, as the case may be. . . ." The Plaintiffs allege that the Administrator has failed to perform a mandatory duty established by the "state certification" provision of the Clean Water Act: 33 U.S.C. § 1299.

 Section 1299 provides for state certification of applications for grant assistance under the Treatment Works Construction Grant Provisions of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1281 et seq., and imposes on the Administrator a duty to act expeditiously with respect to certified applications. It also provides that "If the administrator does not approve or disapprove such application within 45 days of receipt, the application shall be deemed approved." The full text of § 1299 reads as follows:

 
Whenever the Governor of a State which has been delegated sufficient authority to administer the construction grant program under this subchapter in that State certifies to the Administrator that a grant application meets applicable requirements of Federal and State law for assistance under this subchapter, the Administrator shall approve or disapprove such application within 45 days of the date of receipt of such application. If the Administrator does not approve or disapprove such application within 45 days of receipt, the application shall be deemed approved. If the Administrator disapproves such application, the Administrator shall state in writing the reasons for such disapproval. Any grant approved or deemed approved under this section shall be subject to amounts provided in appropriation Acts.

 Some of the requirements of federal law for treatment works grant assistance are contained in 33 U.S.C. § 1284. Section 1284(b)(1) requires that the grant applicant have "legal, institutional, managerial, and financial capability to ensure adequate construction, operation, and maintenance of treatment works throughout the applicant's jurisdiction, as determined by the Administrator." The Magistrate's report includes a detailed discussion of other provisions of the Treatment Works Construction Grant program which need not be repeated here as background to the following discussion. See Magistrate's Report at 3-7.

 3. The Facts.

 Over a period of approximately the past 10 years, the Northern York County Regional Joint Sewage Authority has been dealing with the EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (DER) in an attempt to obtain federal grant assistance for sewage treatment facilities intended to serve four townships, including Fairview Township. In 1976 and 1980, EPA awarded the Authority "Step 1" and "Step 2" grants for investigation of the sewage treatment needs of the area to be served by the Authority and for design of a proposed treatment system. See Magistrate's Report at 7-8. We note parenthetically that the parties dispute the question of whether the EPA's award of Step 1 and Step 2 grants to the Authority is relevant to the present dispute between the parties.

 The Plaintiffs' complaint alleges a violation of the Plaintiffs' rights under Federal law arising from the actions of the various Defendants with respect to the Authority's application for a "Step 3" grant. Step 3 grants provide financial assistance for the construction of sewage treatment systems. The Authority submitted an application for a Step 3 grant to the DER for the Department's approval. The DER "certified" the Step 3 application to the EPA on February 1, 1982. See 33 U.S.C. § 1299. By letter dated March 15, 1982, the EPA notified the DER that the EPA disapproved the authority's application. See Exhibit B attached to the Federal Defendants' brief in support of their motion to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment.

 On April 5, 1982, the Authority submitted a new application for a Step 3 grant to the DER. The DER "certified" the Authority's application to the EPA by means of a letter dated April 13, 1982. See Exhibit A4 attached to State Defendants' brief in support of their motion to dismiss. Although it is not apparent from the document itself, the parties seem to agree that the April 13, 1982 letter is a certification for purposes of 33 U.S.C. § 1299. (The Federal Defendants assert, however, that the letter is not a complete ...


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