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In the context of the Clean Air Act, refining the statutory definition of "control technology"--production processes and available methods, systems, and techniques, including fuel cleaning, clean fuels, or treatment of innovative fuel combustion techniques--to exclude redesign is the kind of judgment by an administrative agency to which a reviewing court should defer.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued a permit to Prairie State Generating Company to build a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired electrical generating plant in southern Illinois, near St. Louis. The proposed plant was a "mine-mouth" plant because it was sited at the location of a coal seam, enabling the coal to be brought from the mine to the plant by a conveyor belt. Petitioner environmentalists filed the present action, alleging that the EPA violated 42 U.S.C.S. § 7475(a)(3) and (4) of the Clean Air Act. Because the coal seam had high-sulfur coal, petitioner environmentalists argued that the EPA had to decide whether hauling low-sulfur coal from afar would be the best available means of controlling air pollution from the plant. Petitioner further argued that the plant was likely to increase the ozone level. The Environmental Appeals Board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to reverse the issuance of the permit, holding that the best available control technology did not include redesigning the plant proposed by the permit applicant. Petitioner environmentalists petitioned for review.
Did the EPA err in issuing a permit to Prairie State Generating Company, allowing the latter to build a coal-fired electrical generating plant?
The court denied the environmentalists’ petition for review. The court held that in the context of the Clean Air Act, the court would hesitate in a borderline case to pronounce the Environmental Protection Agency's decision arbitrary, the applicable standard for judicial review of its granting a permit. Regarding the sulfur dioxide issue, the court determined that it was not arbitrary for the EPA to decide that the statutory definition of "control technology" excluded redesign, and that receiving coal from a distant mine would require the company to reconfigure the plant as one that was not colocated with a mine and this reconfiguration would constitute a redesign. In addition, the EPA was not unreasonable in deciding that the plant was unlikely to increase the ozone level based on its one-hour measurement, rather than its new eight-hour standard.