The Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, 33 U.S.C.S. § 1151 et seq., provides that as soon as possible after April 3, 1970, the Secretary of Interior shall promulgate federal standards of performance for marine sanitation devices which shall be designed to prevent the discharge of untreated or inadequately treated sewage into or upon the navigable waters of the United States. Section 1163(b)(1). The Act also provides that initial standards and regulations shall become effective for new vessels two years after promulgation and for existing vessels five years after promulgation. Section 1163(c)(1). Subsection (f) of § 1163 prohibits any state from enforcing any statute or regulation with respect to the design, manufacture, or installation or use of any marine sanitation device on any vessel subject to the section after the effective date of the initial standards and regulations promulgated under the section. A state may, however, apply to the Secretary for a regulation prohibiting the discharge of any sewage into waters of that state.
Plaintiff lake carriers brought an action against defendant Michigan state officials for a declaratory judgment holding the Michigan Water Pollution Act of 1970 unconstitutional and preempted, and for an injunction against its enforcement. The lake carriers presented several issues as the basis for relief from the Michigan Water Pollution Act of 1970, including (1) that the federal government has preempted the field of pollution control in the waters of the Great Lakes with the Water Pollution Control Act as amended by the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, 33 U.S.C.S. § 1151 et seq., and (2) that the Michigan Water Pollution Act placed an undue burden on interstate commerce, interfered materially with uniform maritime law, denied due process and equal protection, and was unconstitutionally vague.
Was the action for declaratory relief ripe for judicial determination?
Dismissing the lake carriers' complaint without prejudice, the court ruled that the lake carriers' action was premature and that the state officials should be given the opportunity to implement the Michigan Water Pollution Act of 1970, which addressed, among other things, the serious problem of human sewage discharged from hundreds of lake cargo vessels. The court concluded that the lake carriers were seeking an advisory opinion that would have the effect of prohibiting state action until such time as the federal government took control, but that, as a matter of abstention, the court declined to do.