Federal Judge Preserves EPA Water Quality Standards Protecting Tribal Sustenance Fishing Rights in Maine

In an order dated December 3, 2018, U.S. District Judge Jon D. Levy for the District of Maine provided that federal water quality standards developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must remain in place to protect the sustenance fishing practices of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Penobscot Indian Nation, and other tribes in Maine.  See Maine v. Wheeler, No. 1:14-cv-00264-JDL, Doc. 162 (D. Me. Dec. 3, 2018).  While the Court granted EPA’s request for voluntary remand of its 2015 decisions under the Clean Water Act, which disapproved Maine’s proposed water quality standards for tribal waters because they did not “ensure a water quality sufficient to take fish from tribal waters for sustenance,” the Court denied Maine’s request to vacate those decisions pending remand.

These decisions provide the foundation for the water quality standards developed by EPA in 2016 to protect tribal sustenance fishing uses, also called the “Maine Rule.”  The Court further conditioned its remand order “upon the EPA (1) continuing the Maine Rule in effect during the remand period, and (2) not taking any action that would terminate or undermine the effectiveness of the Maine Rule without prior Court approval.”  This important ruling means that the waters where members of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and of other tribes fish will continue to be protected while EPA reconsiders its decisions.

Kanji & Katzen, PLLC represents the Houlton Band in all aspects of this case and looks forward to working with the Band during the remand process to ensure that EPA carefully considers and protects Maliseet sustenance fishing practices under the Clean Water Act.