Environmental -- 2014

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA   (U.S. Supreme Court)

Whether EPA greenhouse gas regulation for motor vehicles triggers limits on stationary sources of GHG emissions

On April 18, 2013, the NAM and 23 other business organizations appealed to the Supreme Court to review an adverse decision on greenhouse gas regulation from the D.C. Circuit. We asked the Supreme Court to review EPA's first-ever regulations of greenhouse gases emitted by stationary sources, such as power plants and factories. The lower court rejected lawsuits from hundreds of organizations who questioned EPA's authority to issue the rules under the Clean Air Act, as well as the procedures it used in doing so.

Greenhouse gas regulation is one of the most costly, complex and encompassing energy regulatory issues facing manufacturers and damaging our global competitiveness. EPA’s regulations could eventually force new permitting requirements for more than 6 million stationary sources, including 200,000 manufacturing facilities, 37,000 farms and millions of other sources, such as universities, schools and hospitals – impacting every aspect of our economy.

EPA’s regulatory decisions produced what it concedes were absurd results. We argued that this was not Congress’s intent when it enacted the Clean Air Act, and that courts must avoid agency interpretations that undermine the purpose of the law.

Moreover, EPA tried to avoid these absurd results by modifying the express statutory thresholds defining who is regulated. Only Congress can make those kinds of changes, and had the agency properly interpreted the statutory requirements from the beginning, it would not be in the position of having to alter the statutory requirements.

The effects of this regulation are immediate, concrete and massive, and will require the installation of “best available control technology”, with total costs estimated by EPA to increase to more than $50 billion per year. This case is of critical importance to manufacturers and our economy.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear our appeal, along with petitions from 5 other groups, limited to the following question: "Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases."

On June 23, 2014, the Court decided that EPA's regulation went too far. A majority concluded that, while greenhouse gases are within the class of emissions that are included within the broad reach of the Clean Air Act, specific sections of that law limit the EPA's regulatory power. Five Justices found that EPA neither was compelled nor permitted to require PSD (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) permits of companies solely because of their greenhouse gas emissions. They also ruled that EPA did not have the statutory authority to rewrite the unambiguous statutory thresholds, and even if EPA would not enforce its greenhouse gas requirements on smaller emitters, those companies would have remained subject to citizen suits to enjoin construction, modification or operation and to impose civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day of violation.

Seven Justices agreed with the NAM's argument that only companies already subject to permitting under the PSD program will be subject to any permitting requirements relating to greenhouse gases. They agreed that the PSD program was intended for the largest emitters that are already subject to PSD permitting. By limiting EPA's authority in this way, the decision provides substantial regulatory relief for the owners of millions of buildings and plants across the country.

Related Documents:
NAM Reply Brief  (February 14, 2014)
NAM Brief on the Merits  (December 9, 2013)
NAM Petition  (April 18, 2013)


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