Costle v. Pacific Legal Foundation,
445 U.S. 198 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Costle v. Pacific Legal Foundation, 445 U.S. 198 (1980)

Costle v. Pacific Legal Foundation

No. 78-1472

Argued December 5, 1979

Decided March 18, 1980

445 U.S. 198


Section 402(a)(1) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) authorizes the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "after opportunity for public hearing," to issue a permit for the discharge of any pollutant upon condition that such discharge will meet all applicable requirements of the FWPCA or such conditions as the Administrator determines are necessary to carry out the Act's goals and objectives. Implementing regulations provide for public notice of the proposed issuance, denial, or modification of a permit; direct the EPA Regional Administrator to hold a public hearing on the proposed action if he finds a significant degree of public interest; and permit any interested person to request an "adjudicatory hearing" after the EPA's determination to take the proposed action. Such a request will be granted if it "[s]ets forth material issues of fact relevant to the questions of whether a permit should be issued, denied or modified." Respondent city of Los Angeles (city) owns a sewage treatment plant that is operated under permits issued by the EPA pursuant to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), established by the FWPCA. The city's current permit, as issued in 1975, conditioned continued discharges from the sewage treatment plant into the Pacific Ocean on the city's compliance with a schedule for achieving full secondary treatment of wastewater by October 1, 1979. In April, 1977, the EPA advised the city that it proposed to extend the expiration date of the 1975 permit for a second time, to December 17, 1979, with all other terms and conditions of the permit to remain unchanged. Notice of the proposed action was published in the Los Angeles Times, but neither the city nor any other party, including respondent Pacific Legal Foundation, requested a hearing or filed comments on the proposed extension, and the EPA Regional Administrator determined that public interest in the modification proposal was insufficient to warrant a public hearing. After respondent Kilroy's post-determination request for an adjudicatory hearing was denied on the ground that it did not set forth material

Page 445 U. S. 199

issues of fact relevant to the question whether the permit should be extended, respondents filed petitions with the Court of Appeals seeking review of the Regional Administrator's action. The Court of Appeals held that the EPA had failed to provide the "opportunity for public hearing" required by § 402(a)(1) when it extended the federal permit, and remanded for a "proper hearing." In so holding, the court concluded that the EPA is required to justify every failure to hold a hearing on a permit action by proof that the material facts supporting the action "are not subject to dispute."


1. The Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the EPA is required to hold a public hearing on every NPDES permit action it takes unless it can show that the material facts supporting its action "are not subject to dispute." Rather, the implementing regulations in question are fully consistent with the FWPCA's purpose to provide the public with an "opportunity" for a hearing concerning agency actions respecting water pollution control, and are valid. Pp. 445 U. S. 213-216.

2. Respondents have failed to demonstrate that the regulations in question were not applied properly in the context of this case. Pp. 445 U. S. 216-220.

(a) Under the circumstances presented here, it was reasonable for the Regional Administrator to extend the permit's expiration date without further public hearing, on the grounds that the public had not exhibited a significant degree of interest in the proposed action, and that information pertinent to such a decision would not have been adduced if a hearing had been held. Pp. 445 U. S. 216-218.

(b) The form of notice by newspaper publication was adequate. The city's argument that the notice was inadequate because its understanding of the compliance schedules was contrary to the EPA's was not pertinent to the agency's decision to extend the permit's expiration date. Pp. 445 U. S. 218-219.

(c) The EPA did not err in failing to hold an adjudicatory hearing on the issues raised in respondent Kilroy's request because that request did not set forth material issues of fact pertinent to the question whether the permit's expiration date should be extended. Pp. 445 U. S. 219-220.

586 F.2d 650, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 445 U. S. 200

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