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Earthrise Law Center wins huge case against EPA

October 12, 2015

  • News Image
    Clinical Professor of Law Allison LaPlante
    Robert M Reynolds
  • News Image
    Invasive Zebra Mussels, which have infested lakes throughout Minnesota, were introduced into Lake Erie by a European freighter in the 1980's.
    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • News Image
    Invasive Zebra Mussel
    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

On October 5, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP) that governs the discharge of 21 billion gallons annually of ballast water—laden with invasive species—to the nation’s waters. In a sweeping decision, the Court held that EPA’s permit failed to establish permit limits that meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

Read the 2nd Circuit Opinion.

This decision is a huge victory for the Great Lakes and the nation’s waters, as well as for the plaintiffs in the case, Northwest Environmental Advocates and Center for Biological Diversity, who were represented by Lewis & Clark Law School’s environmental law clinic Earthrise Law Center. Professor Allison LaPlante, served as lead attorney, along with Deborah Sivas and Matthew Sanders from the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic.

The court found that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the permit, because it failed to ensure that these ballast water discharges would comply with water quality standards, and it failed to evaluate onshore facilities for ballast water treatment.

“Invasive species are like a wildfire, growing instead of washing away; once released there is almost nothing that can be done,” LaPlante said. “The court said that the EPA could not just simply throw its hands up and refuse to do the hard work of establishing permit limits that will protect water quality.” 

This litigation began more than 15 years ago and included work by several Earthrise attorneys over the years, and with many hours put in by Earthrise law students including, Brandon Cobb ’15, Tori Cole ’15, Cameron Jimmo ’13, Courtney Moran ’14, Donald Gourlie ’15, Laura Kerr ’14, and especially Serena Liss ’15, Joel Reschly ’15, Jordan Schoonover ’14, and our current Earthrise fellow, Ryan Shannon ’15.