Federal Water Tap, December 10: Federal Courts Hear Water Cases

The Supreme Court seemed ready on Tuesday to overturn a lower court’s ruling in a case about stormwater pollution in the Los Angeles area, the Associated Press reports. Environmental groups had prevailed in an appellate court in their attempt to lay responsibility for polluted runoff at the hands of the county flood control district.

Carp Case Shown the Door
A U.S. District judge dismissed a lawsuit from five states hoping to halt the spread of voracious Asian carp by separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River Basin, according to the Associated Press. The judge said he would be violating federal law if he ordered the basins separated. The proper venue for such a decision, he said, is Congress, but he left open the possibility that the states—Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—could revise their case.

Supreme Irritation
Last Monday, a government lawyer told the Supreme Court that the Environmental Protection Agency was about to submit new regulations on the very case being argued before the court. “Maybe in the future you could let us know,” Chief Justice John Roberts told the lawyer, according to the New York Times.

Sure enough, three days later, the EPA published a rule stating that logging roads do not need a pollution permit for the muddy water that flows after a rainstorm.

Flood Liability
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can be held liable for damages when water it releases from dams causes temporary flooding, Reuters reports. The justices referred to the 5th Amendment’s Takings Clause, which requires the government to compensate people or organizations for taking private property.

Next on the Docket?
The U.S. solicitor general recommended that the Supreme Court consider a dispute between a Texas water district and the state of Oklahoma over interstate water sales, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. Tarrant Regional Water District sued Oklahoma after the state refused to approve a deal that would transfer water across the border.

Sea Level Rise
There is a 9 in 10 chance that the oceans will rise no less than 8 inches (0.2 meters) and no more than 6.6 feet (2 meters) by 2100, according to research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The range is based on several scenarios. The low end tracks the rate of sea level rise observed so far. The high end includes extensive melting from glaciers and continental ice sheets.

NOAA also reported that 2012 is “virtually certain” to become the warmest year on record in the U.S.

Liquefied Natural Gas
The net economic benefits to the U.S. increase as the amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports increases, according to a report prepared for the Department of Energy. Some members of Congress have spoken against LNG exports, saying more shipments abroad would raise prices at home. The report confirms that assumption, noting that not everyone would benefit from increased exports.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

Author: Brett Walton  is a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue. He writes our Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. Interests: Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Pricing, Infrastructure.

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