Arkansas v. Oklahoma Case Brief

Facts of the Case

The Clean Water Act provides for two sets of water quality measures: effluent limitations, which are promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or Agency), and water quality standards, which are promulgated by the States. The Act generally prohibits the discharge of effluent into a navigable body of water unless the point source obtains a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from a State with an EPA-approved permit program or from the EPA itself. A Fayetteville, Arkansas sewage treatment plant received an EPA-issued permit, authorizing it to discharge effluent into a stream that ultimately reaches the Illinois River upstream from the Oklahoma border. Respondents, Oklahoma and other Oklahoma parties, challenged the permit before the EPA, alleging,, that the discharge violated Oklahoma water quality standards, which allow no degradation of water quality in the upper Illinois River. The EPA’s Chief Judicial Officer remanded the initial affirmance of the permit by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), ruling that the Act requires an NPDES permit to impose any effluent limitations necessary to comply with applicable state water quality standards, and that those standards would be violated only if the record shows by a preponderance of the evidence that the discharge would cause an actualviolation of Oklahoma’s water quality standards. The ALJ then made detailed findings of fact, concluding that Fayetteville had satisfied the Chief Judicial Officer’s standard, and the Chief Judicial Officer sustained the permit’s issuance. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the Act does not allow a permit to be issued where a proposed source would discharge effluent that would contribute to conditions currently constituting a violation of applicable water quality standards. It concluded that the Illinois River was already degraded, that the Fayetteville effluent would reach the river in Oklahoma, and that the effluent would contribute to the river’s deterioration even though it would not detectably affect the river’s water quality.

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Case Information

Citation: 503 US 91 (1992)
Argued: Dec 11, 1991
Decided: Feb 26, 1992
Case Brief: 1992