Federal Court Throws Out Challenge to EPA Plan to Reduce Thousands of Tons of Trash in Los Angeles-Area Waters

Court's 27-Page Opinion Slams Coalition of Cities, Calling Some Claims "Patently Meritless" and Some Conduct "Especially Reprehensible."

LOS ANGELES (May 21, 2003) -- In a major environmental ruling, United States District Court Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong has dismissed a challenge by a coalition of 22 cities to new rules to reduce trash in LA-area waters. In a strongly worded opinion that was unusually critical of the plaintiffs' case and conduct, the Court upheld the new rules, which aim to eliminate most trash from local rivers, streams, and beaches over the next fourteen years.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency approved the new rules on August 1, 2002 and they were soon challenged by nearly two-dozen cities. Over a period of approximately fourteen years, the new rules require incremental steps to reduce and eliminate huge quantities of trash that now pollute many local waters and beaches. According to the EPA and the state's Los Angles Regional Water Quality Control Board, thousands of tons of trash now enter local waters, where it degrades water quality; threatens human health; and poses harm to marine life, birds, and the aquatic ecosystem. Pictures of maimed birds caught in plastic "six-pack" rings, marine mammals entrapped in debris, and a dolphin autopsy revealing a stomach full of plastic bags captivated many officials at regional hearings held in 2002 to consider the new rules.

The Environmental Protection Agency adopted the new rules in order to comply with a consent decree in a case brought by three environmental organizations in 1998, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Santa Monica Baykeeper, and Heal the Bay. Among other things, the consent decree mandated adoption of new trash reduction rules no later than March 2002. Earlier this year, NRDC, Baykeeper and Heal the Bay formally intervened in the cities' court case challenging these rules and are formal parties to the proceedings.

The decision is unusual because of the tough language used by the United States District Court in rejecting the cities' challenge. The Court repeatedly chided the cities for "potentially misleading" the litigants; utilizing practices that are "reprehensible;" and employing a "'win at all costs' approach [rather] than considered judgment."

David Beckman, NRDC Senior Attorney and lead counsel for the environmental groups, applauded the Court's decision. "This decision demonstrates a keen awareness of the scorched earth tactics that these public entities have let loose to undermine local water quality protections. The ruling is a stinging rebuke of both the cities' arguments and their tactics. Spending public dollars to fund such litigation is a travesty."

The decision removes a major stumbling block that threatened to undo years of effort to fashion a reasonable plan to improve local waters that are often trash-infested. "It's now time to get on with the hard work of stopping thousands of tons of trash from reaching our creeks, rivers, and the Bay," said Steve Fleischli, Executive Director of Baykeeper. Mark Gold, Executive Director of Heal the Bay, added, "if you have ever walked through a beach littered with trash after a rain or been dismayed at trash layered many feet high in the Los Angeles River, this decision is very good news and a victory for the environment."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Santa Monica Baykeeper is a community-based environmental organization whose mission is to protect and restore Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay and adjacent waters through enforcement, field work, and community action. More information is available through BayKeeper's website at www.smbaykeeper.org.

Heal the Bay, founded in 1985, is dedicated to making Santa Monica Bay and Southern California coastal waters safe and healthy again for people and marine life. It is one of the largest nonprofit environmental organizations in Los Angeles County, with more than 10,000 members.