Wednesday, August 27, 2008

El Comite para el Bienestar de Earlimart v. Warmerdam

Aug 20: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case Nos. 06-16000, 06-16131. As explained by the Appeals Court, the case involves a challenge under § 304 of the Clean Air Act (CAA), see 42 U.S.C. § 7604(a) -- the citizen suit provision. A coalition of community organizations (El Comité) brought suit against California state officials (California) responsible for designing and implementing the State air quality plan. The complicated approval process for the State Implementation Plan (SIP) required extensive back-and-forth between California and U.S. EPA.

El Comité takes issue with both the process by which California obtained EPA approval of the SIP and the final outcome of that approval process. In particular, El Comité argues that California violated Federal law by failing to adhere to the SIP approved by the EPA, which it argues required California to implement additional regulations in five areas where air quality standards for reducing harmful emissions have not been met. They charge, "California went astray. . . by using the wrong data to calculate the baseline for its emission standards and by ignoring deadlines that were intended to be incorporated into EPA’s final approval of the SIP." The Appeals Court said, "El Comité’s claim turns on determination of what documents were incorporated into the final SIP and the EPA rule, and interpretation of what the SIP, and hence federal law, requires of California."

The district court concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to review El Comité’s claim regarding the data and methodology used by California to calculate the baseline for emissions standards. The court agreed, however, with El Comité’s expansive interpretation of the SIP, and ordered relief based on that interpretation. That relief was also built on the methodology El Comité advocated for use in calculating the baseline -- the same methodology the district court had held it was without jurisdiction to review.

The Appeals Court indicates that, "As it [district court] carefully worked through the parties’ labyrinthine administrative law arguments, the court acknowledged that its rulings were potentially incongruous. We agree. In our view, the district court ultimately exceeded its jurisdiction. Because § 304 of the CAA provides jurisdiction only to enforce an 'emission standard or limitation,' and because the challenged conduct did not implicate such a standard or limitation, the court was without jurisdiction to order a remedy."

Access the complete opinion (click here).

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