Law School Case Brief
Util. Air Regulatory Grp. v. EPA - 573 U.S. 302, 134 S. Ct. 2427 (2014)
Congress’s profligate use in the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 7401 et seq., of air pollutant where what is meant is obviously narrower than the Act-wide definition is not conducive to clarity. One ordinarily assumes that identical words used in different parts of the same act are intended to have the same meaning. In this respect (as in countless others), the Act is far from a chef d’oeuvre of legislative draftsmanship. But a court, and the EPA, must do their best. The presumption of consistent usage readily yields to context, and a statutory term, even one defined in the statute, may take on distinct characters from association with distinct statutory objects calling for different implementation strategies.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated greenhouse-gas emission standards for new motor vehicles, and made stationary sources subject to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program and Title V of Clean Air Act on the basis of their potential to emit greenhouse gases. It recognized, however, that requiring permits for all sources with greenhouse-gas emissions above the statutory thresholds would radically expand those programs and render them unadministrable. Hence, EPA purported to “tailor” the programs to accommodate greenhouse gases by providing, among other things, that sources would not become newly subject to PSD or Title V permitting on the basis of their potential to emit greenhouse gases in amounts less than 100,000 tons per year. Thereafter, numerous parties, including several States, challenged EPA's actions in the District of Columbia Circuit, which dismissed some of the petitions for lack of jurisdiction and denied the remainder. The petitioner filed for petitions for certiorari in the Supreme Court which took cognizance of the case.
Can the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) require a source to obtain a PSD or Title V permit on the sole basis of its potential greenhouse-gas emissions?
The Court held that the Act neither compels nor permits EPA to adopt an interpretation of the Act requiring a source to obtain a PSD or Title V permit on the sole basis of its potential greenhouse-gas emissions. According to the Court, the Act-wide definition is not a command to regulate, but a description of the universe of substances EPA may consider regulating under the Act's operative provisions. Though Congress's profligate use of “air pollutant” is not conducive to clarity, the presumption of consistent usage readily yields to context, and a statutory term may take on distinct characters from association with distinct statutory objects calling for different implementation strategies. Furthermore, the Court held that EPA lacked authority to tailor the Act's unambiguous numerical thresholds of 100 or 250 tons per year to accommodate its greenhouse-gas-inclusive interpretation of the permitting triggers. However, the Court noted that EPA reasonably interpreted the Act to require sources that would need permits based on their emission of conventional pollutants to comply with “best available control technology” BACT for greenhouse gases.
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