In 2001, the Fourth Circuit addressed the permit shield provision of the Clean Water Act and found it to provide broad-scale protection for polluters. In Piney Run Preservation Association v. County Commissioners of Carroll County, the Fourth Circuit held that facilities with discharge permits are protected from lawsuits even when discharging pollutants not contained within their permits. Under this ruling, permit holders may discharge, without fear of penalty, any disclosed pollutant within the reasonable expectation of the permitting authority. This decision is worrisome because it does not protect the goals of the Clean Water Act and deprives the public of information about what pollutants are in their environment.
Jessica Owley, Piney Run: The Permits Are Not What They Seem, 30 Ecology L.Q. 429 (2003).