Today in NYC History: City Wins Fight With Nixon Over Sewer Ca$h (1975)

Tricky Dick at a New York City diner.

Tricky Dick at a New York City diner.

Not a lot has happened in New York City on this date, but fortunately for “separation of powers” fans, on February 18, 1975, the Supreme Court ruled in New York’s favor in the sewage treatment financial allocation battle, Train v. City of New York.  I practiced law for a while, and this is actually more interesting than your average case.

For years, municipal governments had been frustrated by an unpredictable federal funding process that complicated planning for large-scale projects. In 1972, Congress passed a law allocating funding for specific water pollution projects, including New York’s sewage treatment plant. Preferring the money go elsewhere, Nixon ordered his EPA Administrator, Russell Train, to withhold several million dollars from the money earmarked for New York City.

In a decision penned by scholar-athlete “Whizzer” White, the Supreme Court voted 9-0 in favor of New York City, holding that the 1972 law did not allow executive discretion over allocated funding. If Congress allocated $6 million in funding for New York City, the EPA had to allocate not some, but all of that money.

Thus, New York City got its sewage cash. That’s pretty important. New York City’s sewer system has long been under tremendous stress, to the point that sewage floods our waterways whenever it rains more than a few inches. The combination of rainwater and waste water is called a Combined Sewage Overflow, or “CSO“.

Constitutional lawyers might have a sense of this decision’s importance, but as we face a long two years with a Republican Congress and President Obama in the White House, these issues could arise again.

Previous “Today in New York City” projects may have fallen short because, well, some days are pretty boring, even historically. If you’re going to do something impressive or crazy, February 18 is wide open. The runner-up was Bjork performing at the Queens Hall of Science in 2012, which was probably an epic evening.

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