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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 Environmental Protection Agency, must do their best, bearing in mind the fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme. 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 Clean Air Act imposes permitting requirements on stationary sources, such as factories and powerplants. The Act's “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” (PSD) provisions made it unlawful to construct or modify a major emitting facility in any area to which the PSD program applied without a permit. A “major emitting facility” was a stationary source with the potential to emit 250 tons per year of “any air pollutant” (or 100 tons per year for certain types of sources). Facilities seeking to qualify for a PSD permit must comply with emissions limitations that reflect the “best available control technology” (BACT) for “each pollutant subject to regulation under” the Act.  In addition, Title V of the Act made it unlawful to operate any “major source,” wherever located, without a permit. A “major source” is a stationary source with the potential to emit 100 tons per year of “any air pollutant.”

In response to Massachusetts v. EPA, EPA promulgated greenhouse-gas emission standards for new motor vehicles, and made stationary sources subject to the PSD program and Title V 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. So 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. Numerous parties, including several States, challenged EPA's actions in the D. C. Circuit, which dismissed some of the petitions for lack of jurisdiction and denied the remainder.


Did the Environmental Protection Agency exceed its statutory authority when it interpreted the Clean Air Act to require Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V permitting for stationary sources based on their greenhouse-gas emissions? May the EPA continue to treat greenhouse gases as a “pollutant subject to regulation under this chapter” for purposes of requiring best available control technology (BACT) for “anyway” sources?



Yes; No.


The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the circuit court's decision as to the BACT requirement for "anyway" sources and reversed as to the requirement of permitting based solely on greenhouse-gas emissions. The Court agreed to decide only the question of whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements for stationary sources that emitted greenhouse gases. The Court held that the Act neither compelled nor permitted EPA's interpretation that a source might be required to obtain a permit under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program and Title V of the Act on the sole basis of its potential greenhouse-gas emissions. Inclusion of greenhouse gases in the Act-wide definition of air pollutant did not preclude EPA from giving the term air pollutant" a context-appropriate meaning in the Act's operative provisions and EPA's interpretation was unreasonable. However, EPA reasonably interpreted the Act to require best available control technology (BACT) for greenhouse gases emitted by sources that were otherwise subject to PSD review because of their emission of conventional pollutants. Those "anyway" sources could only be required to comply with greenhouse-gas BACT if they emitted more than a de minimis amount of greenhouse gases. The Court also explained that a court reviews the EPA's interpretations of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 7401 et seq., using the Chevron standard. Under the Chevron test, the court presumes that when an agency-administered statute is ambiguous with respect to what it prescribes, Congress has empowered the agency to resolve the ambiguity. 

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