Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sierra Club v. U.S. EPA

Aug 19: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, Case Nos. 04-1243, 07-1039. As explained by the majority in this 2-1 split decision, the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act compel certain stationary sources of air pollution to obtain permits from state and local authorities that identify all emission limits for the source and also include “monitoring . . . requirements to assure compliance with the permit terms and conditions.” 42 U.S.C. § 7661c(c). Sometimes, existing monitoring requirements do not “assure compliance.” The U.S. EPA promulgated a rule preventing state and local authorities from supplementing these inadequate monitoring requirements. The majority opinion vacated the rule saying that, ". . . it is contrary to the statutory directive that each permit must include adequate monitoring requirements."

The majority clarifies the issue by citing an example. ". . . suppose there is a standard that limits emission from a given stationary source to X units of pollutant per day. Suppose also that the standard requires annual monitoring. Where annual testing cannot assure compliance with a daily emission limit, may the permitting authority supplement the monitoring requirement 'to assure compliance with the permit terms and conditions,' as the Act commands? 42 U.S.C. § 7661c(c)."

The majority notes that EPA's position on the issue has varied over time. In 1997, EPA took the position that state and local permitting authorities could supplement periodic monitoring requirements that failed to assure compliance. The Appeals Court cites a letter from Winston A. Smith, Director, Air, Pesticides & Toxics Mgmt. Div., EPA, to Howard L. Rhodes, Director, Air Res. Mgmt. Div., Fla. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot. (Dec. 11, 1997). Then in 2004, EPA issued a rule which provided that nothing in the Part 70 Rules authorized permitting authorities to supplement inadequate monitoring requirements. See 69 Fed. Reg. 3202 (Jan. 22, 2004). EPA said that it alone would remedy inadequate monitoring requirements by undertaking a “programmatic” strategy. The Appeals Court vacated the 2004 rule because EPA had not allowed for notice and comment [Envtl. Integrity Project v. EPA, 425 F.3d 992, 998 (D.C. Cir. 2005)], and then EPA noticed and adopted an identical rule in December 2006 [71 Fed. Reg. 75,422 (Dec. 15, 2006) (2006 rule)].

In vacating the 2006 rule, the Appeals Court majority said, ". . . we have concluded the Act requires: a permitting authority may supplement an inadequate monitoring requirement so that the requirement will 'assure compliance with the permit terms and conditions.' Because § 70.6(c)(1) can be reasonably read this way, we uphold the monitoring provisions of the Part 70 Rules as consistent with the Act. . . We grant the petition for review with respect to the 2006 rule, which we vacate. We deny the petition for review with respect to the monitoring provisions of the Part 70 Rules."

In dissent, one of the three Justices said, "I respectfully part ways with the majority opinion because the relevant statutory language supports EPA’s 2006 rule. . . The dispute in this case boils down to the following: When issuing permits, can state and local permitting authorities independently determine whether, in their view, those pre-existing monitoring requirements are sufficient “to assure compliance” with emission limits -- and if they think not, impose additional monitoring requirements? The legal question here is: Who Decides? According to petitioners, the statute says that state and local permitting authorities can decide on their own to impose additional monitoring requirements as they see fit. EPA responds that it possesses the statutory authority and discretion to decide whether state and local permitting authorities can impose additional monitoring requirements. The statutory text resolves that question; the statute grants EPA the authority to determine whether state and local permitting authorities can impose additional monitoring requirements. . ."

Earthjustice challenged the 2006 EPA rule on behalf of the Environmental Integrity Project, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club. They said the rule specifically prohibited permitting authorities from including stronger air pollution monitoring requirements in permits for approximately 18,000 major stationary pollution sources, even where needed to guarantee compliance with emission limits. Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell who argued the case in court said, “This is a huge victory for everyone who breathes. We can’t have strong enforcement of our clean air laws unless we know what polluters are putting into the air.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope issued a statement saying, "This is a huge victory against one of the most egregious rollbacks of environmental protections in our nation’s history. . ." American Petroleum Institute, who intervened on behalf of U.S. EPA, did not issue a statement on the decision.

Access the complete opinion and dissent (
click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here). Access a statement from Sierra Club (click here).

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