Monday, March 23, 2009

Natural Resources Defense Council v. U.S. EPA

Mar 20: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, Case No. 07-1151. State authorities submit air pollution emissions data to U.S. EPA. EPA monitors the data in order to evaluate regional compliance with national air pollution standards. In 2007, EPA promulgated a regulation governing the exclusion of emissions data during “exceptional events” such as natural disasters. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brought petitions for review, seeking to set aside the rule’s definition of “natural events” and to vacate several statements in the preamble to the rule concerning types of events that may qualify as “exceptional.”

In a split decision the majority rules that, "Even if the statements in the preamble were reviewable under the Clean Air Act, they are not ripe for review at this time. The statements about exceptional events are 'hypothetical and non-specific.' Kennecott, 88 F.3d at 1223. NRDC has not demonstrated that any of the statements has immediate legal or practical consequences. How EPA will use or rely on or interpret what it said in the preamble is uncertain. . . We can see no significant hardship to the parties from waiting for a real case to emerge. As EPA points out in its brief, the Clean Air Act 'provides for judicial review of any EPA decision to determine the attainment status of an area, or to designate or redesignate an area, based on EPA’s decision to exclude exceptional events data or other information.'"

In a separate opinion concurring in part, and dissenting in part, the Justice said, "When an agency receives comments that object to its application of a statutory term as being contrary to the plain text of the statute, what is the agency to understand is the target of the objection? The specific application or the agency’s underlying interpretation of the term or both? The court
responds only the application. But the answer depends on how the comments are phrased. If, as here, the comments address a specific application by pointing out that it reflects an interpretation of a statutory term that contradicts the plain text of the statute, how can the agency respond to the comments without considering whether its definition is consistent with the statute, much less how would it not be on notice that the comments extended to the agency’s interpretation of the statutory term?"

Access the complete opinion (
click here).