The First Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected challenges to discharge limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and aluminum imposed on a Massachusetts sewage treatment plant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement Dist. v. EPA, No. 11-1474, -1610 (1st Cir. 8/3/12).

The treatment plant petitioner claimed that the science EPA used in setting the discharge limits was inadequate and unreliable. It argued that EPA should have delayed a permit until an ongoing facility upgrade was completed and a new water quality model was developed. EPA argued that the severity of existing water quality problems in the Blackstone River, where discharges were released, supported imposing strict limits based on currently available information. A second petitioner, the Conservation Law Foundation, argued that EPA’s discharge limits were too high for a river that did not meet Rhode Island’s water quality standards.

The court disagreed with both petitioners, ruling that, in its final permit decision, EPA had not erred in limiting the amount of pollutants allowed to be discharged into the river. Specifically, the court rejected the argument that EPA should have waited for the development of a new computer model, finding insufficient data showing that a model could be successfully developed at all. The court deferred to EPA’s policy-making discretion, stating that the agency’s decision was “entitled to respect.”