When a court reviews an agency's construction of the statute which it administers, it is confronted with two questions. First, always, is the question whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress. If, however, the court determines that Congress has not directly addressed the precise question at issue, the court does not simply impose its own construction on the statute, as would be necessary in the absence of an administrative interpretation. Rather, if the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.
Petitioner sought review of a judgment from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which set aside a regulation. Petitioner argued that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation, implementing permit requirements for nonattainment states pursuant to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 (Act), 42 U.S.C.S. § 7502(b)(6), permitting states to treat all of the pollution-emitting devices within the same industrial groupings as though they were encased within a single bubble, was a reasonable construction of the statutory term stationary source. On appeal, the judgment below was reversed.
Was the agency's action based on a permissible construction of the statute?
In support of its ruling, the Supreme Court held that if a statute was silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for a court was whether the agency's action was based on a permissible construction of the statute. Further, considerable weight was to be accorded to an agency's construction of a statutory scheme. The Court noted that while the legislative history of the statute was silent on the instant issue, it did reveal that the EPA's interpretation was fully consistent with one of the two principal goals of the statute -- namely, allowance of reasonable economic growth. Accordingly, the EPA's interpretation was entitled to deference.