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Sierra Club v. EPA   (D.C. Circuit)

Challenge to affirmative defense for equipment malfunctions

In June, 2014, the Sierra Club challenged 9 EPA Clean Air Act rules in court, alleging that provisions in each rule are no longer valid as a result of a decision in April by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The provisions at issue allows companies an affirmative defense to civil penalties for exceeding emissions limits that are caused by malfunctions. A company must prove that the malfunction was sudden, infrequent, not reasonably preventable and not caused by poor maintenance or careless operation, and that it took steps to correct the malfunction and minimize resulting emissions.

In April, the court decided in Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA to vacate portions of a Portland cement industry rule pertaining to the affirmative defense, finding that the EPA lacked the authority to create a defense applicable in federal court. This Sierra Club suit attempts to remove the defense from 9 other rules in which it arises, involving various industries and kinds of equipment. Challenges to regulations must be brought within 60 days of their promulgation unless the petition "is based solely on grounds arising after such sixtieth day . . . ." The suit claims that the NRDC case decision constitutes grounds arising after the rules were promulgated.

In July, the NAM and 13 other business associations filed a motion to intervene in the suit. Manufacturers will be negatively impacted if the suit is successful, since it could make them liable for permit violations arising from unavoidable equipment malfunctions. That liability can arise both from EPA citations and from citizen suits around the country.

The rules at issue govern chemical manufacturing, pulp and paper mills, steel pickling, marine tank vessel loading operations, industrial steam-generating units, nitric acid plants and others.

On July 25, the court ordered the case held in abeyance while the EPA decided on a pending administrative petition from the Sierra Club to revise the rules. The EPA granted the petition, and on 12/17/14, the court held this case in abeyance until the EPA completes the rules revision process.


Related Documents:
NAM Motion to Intervene  (July 17, 2014)

 


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