A lawsuit challenging the use of pollution "trading" to clean up the Chesapeake Bay was thrown out Friday, removing another legal hurdle to a federally imposed plan to restore the ailing estuary's water quality.
Judge Rudolph Contreras in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion by the Environmental Protection Agency to dismiss the lawsuit brought against it by two environmental groups. The groups, Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth, had sued the EPA in October 2012, contending that a market-based cleanup program that is part of the agency's "pollution diet" for the bay violates the federal Clean Water Act and would undermine — rather than help — efforts to restore the Chesapeake. Under the programs, as an example, municipalities, developers and industries could potentially satisfy requirements to reduce their releases of water-fouling nutrients by paying farmers to curb fertilizer runoff more than is mandated by law.
But the judge ruled that the groups had brought their suit prematurely, as the EPA has not approved any pollution trades under programs drawn up by bay states, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The judge also declared that the groups can't show they have legal standing to challenge the programs.
The decision comes three months after a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed legal challenges brought by agriculture and builders' groups to EPA's authority to impose the "diet," setting targets for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution in each of the six states in the bay watershed. The American Farm Bureau Federation has appealed that decision.