Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo

Facts of the Case

A number of persons, including the Governor of Puerto Rico and residents of the island, filed an action against the United States Navy in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico to enjoin the Navy’s use of an island off the Puerto Rico coast for weapons training, alleging violations of numerous federal environmental statutes and other laws, including the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Act). The District Court found that, under the explicit terms of the Act, the Navy had violated the Act by discharging ordnance into the water surrounding the island without first obtaining a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The District Court ordered the Navy to apply for a permit, but refused to enjoin Navy operations pending consideration of the permit application, concluding that an injunction was not necessary to ensure suitably prompt compliance by the Navy. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the District Court’s order and remanded with instructions that the court order the Navy to cease the violation until it obtained a permit, concluding that the District Court erred in undertaking a traditional balancing of the parties’ competing interests and that the Navy had an absolute statutory obligation to stop any discharges of pollutant until the permit procedure had been followed and the Administrator of the EPA had granted a permit