environmental law

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, American Chemistry Council v. EPA, Energy-Intensive Manufacturers v. EPA, Southeastern Legal Foundation v. EPA, Texas v. EPA, Chamber of Comm. v. EPA, 12-1146, 12-1248, 12-1254, 12-1268, 12-1269, 12-1272 (Consolidated)

Issues: 

Does the Environmental Protection Agency have authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions?

Following the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA began regulating greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources, such as cars and trucks. The categorization of greenhouse gases an an “air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act automatically triggered the regulation of stationary sources, such as factories, through the EPA’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration and Title V permit programs. However, because the new regulatory framework easily triggered EPA oversight for low levels of emissions, the EPA decided to increase the threshold emissions level for greenhouse gases. Petitioners, including various states and industry groups, assert that the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources expands the scope of the Act beyond Congress’s original intent. Accordingly, Petitioners argue that the EPA lacks authority for this regulation. The EPA responds that because greenhouse gases are plainly air pollutants, the agency has the statutory authority to regulate them. Moreover, the EPA contends that this reading of the Act conforms with Congress’s intent to give the EPA broad discretion in regulating air pollution to protect public health and welfare. The Supreme Court’s determination of whether the EPA may continue to regulate greenhouse gases under these programs will significantly impact the United States’ approach to climate change.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

After this Court decided Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that its promulgation of motor vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards under Title II of the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7521(a)(1), compelled regulation of carbon dioxide and other GHGs under the CAA's Title I prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) and Title V stationary-source permitting programs. Even though EPA determined that including GHGs in these programs would vastly expand the programs contrary to Congress's intent, EPA adopted rules adding GHGs to the pollutants covered. The panel below held the CAA and Massachusetts compelled inclusion of GHGs and, based on that holding, dismissed all petitions to review the GHG permitting program rules on standing grounds. The questions presented are: 

  1. Whether Massachusetts compelled EPA to in-clude GHGs in the PSD and Title V programs when inclusion of GHGs would (i) transform the size and scope of these programs into something that EPA found would be "unrecognizable to ... Congress," Petition Appendix 345a, 380a, and (ii) expand the PSD program to cover a substance that does not deteriorate the quality of the air that people breathe. 
  2. Whether dismissal of the petitions to review EPA's GHG permit-program rules was inconsistent with this Court's standing jurisprudence where the panel premised its holding that standing was absent on its merits holding that GHGs are regulated "pursuant to automatic operation of the CAA." Id. at 96a. 

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Facts

After the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, categorizing greenhouse gases (GHG) as an “air pollutant” and therefore subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began regulating GHGs.

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EPA v. EME Homer City Generation

Issues: 

Consolidated with American Lung Association v. EME Home City Generation (12-1183).

  1. Did the EPA permissibly interpret the phrase “contribute significantly” when it balanced achievable emission reduction levels against the cost of achieving such emission reductions?   
  2. Can states wait for the EPA to adopt a rule quantifying each state’s “good neighbor” obligations before they adopt a state implementation plan prohibiting emissions that “contribute significantly” to other states’ pollution problems?

In 1963, in response to growing concerns of pollution, Congress passed the Clean Air Act (CAA). The CAA requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set certain air quality standards for harmful pollutants, and includes a “Good Neighbor” provision requiring states to adopt plans that prohibit pollution that would “contribute significantly” to other states’ nonattainment of these standards.  However, the CAA does not define “significant contribution.”  In 2011, the EPA finalized a rule known as the “Transport Rule.”  Mirroring the language of the “good neighbor” provision, the Transport Rule defines emission reduction obligations for several upwind states that “contribute significantly” to downwind states’ nonattainment of the EPA’s air quality standards.  In determining what constitutes a significant contribution, the EPA balanced achievable emission reductions against the cost of achieving those reductions.  However, in EME Homer City Generations v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit struck down the Transport Rule and rejected the EPA’s analysis for determining what constitutes a significant contribution in this context.  These two cases present the Supreme Court with questions about the EPA’s interpretation of its statutory grant of authority under the CAA as well as questions about the jurisdiction of the D.C. Circuit to hear the challenges presented.  This case also raises concerns about federal intervention in state affairs and public health concerns posed by the EPA’s interpretation of the CAA.  Should the Supreme Court decide this case on the merits, the Court’s decision will significantly affect the EPA’s grant of authority to regulate interstate pollution. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

EPA V. EME HOMER CITY GENERATION

The Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq. (Act of CAA), requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particular pollutants at levels that will protect the public health and welfare. 42 U.S.C. 7408, 7409.  “[W]ithin 3 years” of promulgation of a [NAAQS],” each State must adopt a state implementation plan (SIP) with “adequate provisions” that will, inter alia, “prohibit[]” pollution that will “contribute significantly” to other States’ inability to meet, or maintain compliance with, the NAAQS. 42 U.S.C. 7410(a)(1), (2)(D)(i)(I).  If a State fails to submit a SIP or submits an inadequate one, the EPA must enter an order so finding. 42 U.S.C. 7410(k).  After the EPA does so, it “shall promulgate a [f]ederal implementation plan” for that State within two years. 42 U.S.C. 7410(c)(1).   

The questions presented are as follows: 

  1. Whether the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction to consider the challenges on which it granted relief.
  2. Whether States are excused from adopting SIPs prohibiting emissions that “contribute significantly” to air pollution problems in other States until after the EPA has adopted a rule quantifying each State’s interstate pollution obligations.
  3. Whether the EPA permissibly interpreted the statutory term “contribute significantly” so as to define each upwind State’s “significant” interstate air pollution contributions in light of the cost-effective emission reductions it can make to improve air quality in polluted downwind areas, or whether the Act instead unambiguously requires the EPA to consider only each upwind State’s physically proportionate responsibility for each downwind air quality problem.

American Lung Association v. EME Home City Generation (12-1183)

QUESTIONS PRESENTED:

The Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision requires that state implementation plans contain “adequate” provisions prohibiting emissions that will “contribute significantly” to another state’s nonattainment of health-based air quality standards. 42 U.S.C. 7410(a)(2)(D)(i).  A divided D.C. Circuit panel invalidated, as contrary to statute, a major EPA regulation, the Transport Rule, that gives effect to the provision and requires 27 states to reduce emissions that contribute to downwind states’ inability to attain or maintain air quality standards.  The questions presented are:

  1. Whether the statutory challenges to EPA’s methodology for defining upwind states’ “significant contributions” were properly before the court, given the failure of anyone to raise these objections at all, let alone with the requisite “reasonable specificity,” “during the period for public comment,” 42 U.S.C. 7607(d)(7)(B);
  2. Whether the court’s imposition of its own detailed methodology for implementing the Good Neighbor provision violated foundational principles governing judicial review of administrative decision-making; 
  3. Whether an upwind state that is polluting a downwind state is free of any obligations under the Good Neighbor provision unless and until EPA has quantified the upwind state’s contribution to downwind states’ air pollution problems.  

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Facts

In passing the Clean Air Act, Congress empowered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), the maximum permissible levels of common pollutants released into the air.  See EME Homer City Generation v. EPA, 696 F.3d 7, 12 (D.C. Cir. 2012).

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Decker, et al., v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center (11-338)l Georgia-Pacific West, et al., v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center (11-347)

The Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") has interpreted the Clean Water Act ("CWA") in such a way so that certain logging activities that cause polluted water to run off of forest roads and into ditches, culverts, or pipes are exempt from the permit process. Relying on §1365 of the CWA, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center ("NEDC") brought a citizen’s lawsuit in federal district court in an attempt to eliminate the exemption from the permit process. The Petitioners argue that a citizen's lawsuit was impermissible in this case because of §1369 of the CWA. The parties also do not agree on the level of deference that the EPA should have been given in interpreting its regulations. Furthermore, the NEDC takes issue with the way EPA interprets several key phrases in the CWA, which affects the substance of the EPA’s decision. The ability of federal courts to review agency action as well as the scope of an agency’s authority are at stake in this case. Also, the Supreme Court’s decision can clarify the ability of citizens to bring an action to change the EPA’s course of action under the CWA. Finally, these procedural and administrative questions could ultimately have an effect on the environment and water quality as well as the procedures loggers must follow to ensure they comply with the CWA.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

DECKER, ET AL. V. NORTHWEST ENVTL. DEFENSE CENTER

(1) Congress has authorized citizens dissatisfied with the Environmental Protection Agency’s ("EPA") rules implementing the Clean Water Act’s ("CWA") National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ("NPDES") permitting program to seek judicial review of those rules in the Courts of Appeals. See 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b). Congress further specified that those rules cannot be challenged in any civil or criminal enforcement proceeding. Consistent with the terms of the statute, multiple circuit courts have held that if a rule is reviewable under 33 U.S.C. § 1369, it is exclusively reviewable under that statute and cannot be challenged in another proceeding. 

Did the Ninth Circuit err when, in conflict with those circuits, it held that a citizen may bypass judicial review of an NPDES permitting rule under 33 U.S.C. § 1369, and may instead challenge the validity of the rule in a citizen suit to enforce the CWA?

(2) In 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p), Congress required NPDES permits for stormwater discharges “associated with industrial activity,” and delegated to the EPA the responsibility to determine what activities qualified as “industrial” for purposes of the permitting program. The EPA determined that stormwater from logging roads and other specified silvicultural activities is non-industrial stormwater that does not require an NPDES permit. See 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(b)(14).

Did the Ninth Circuit err when it held that stormwater from logging roads is industrial stormwater under the CWA and EPS’s rules, even though EPA has determined that it is not industrial stormwater? 

GEORGIA-PACIFIC WEST, ET AL. V. NORTHWEST ENVTL. DEFENSE CENTER 

Since passage of the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") has considered runoff of rain from forest roads--whether channeled or not--to fall outside the scope of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) and thus not to require a permit as a point source discharge of pollutants. Under a rule first promulgated in 1976, the EPA consistently has defined as non-point source activities forest road construction and maintenance from which natural runoff results. And in regulating stormwater discharges under 1987 amendments to the Act, the EPA again expressly excluded runoff from forest roads. In consequence, forest road runoff long has been regulated as a nonpoint source using best management practices, like those imposed by the State of Oregon on the roads at issue here.

The EPA’s consistent interpretation of more than 35 years has survived proposed regulatory revision and legal challenge, and repeatedly has been endorsed by the United States in briefs and agency publications.

The Ninth Circuit--in conflict with other circuits, contrary to the position of the United States as amicus, and with no deference to the EPA--rejected the EPA’s longstanding interpretation. Instead, it directed the EPA to regulate channeled forest road runoff under a statutory category of stormwater discharges “associated with industrial activity,” for which a permit is required. The question presented is:

Whether the Ninth Circuit should have deferred to the EPA’s longstanding position that channeled runoff from forest roads does not require a permit, and erred when it mandated that the EPA regulate such runoff as industrial stormwater subject to NPDES.

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Issue(s)

Whether citizens can file a lawsuit to challenge the validity of the EPA granting an exception to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirement.

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Los Angeles Cnty. Flood Control Dist. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. (11-460)

Between 2002 and 2008, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District repeatedly detected impermissible levels of water pollution in its stormwater channeling system, the MS4, which collects and transports stormwater runoff through rivers flowing to the Pacific Ocean. The levels were impermissible because they exceeded the pollution amounts allowed to the District through a state-issued permit pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Santa Monica Baykeeper commenced an action, seeking to impose liability on the District for its permit violations in four rivers. The District argues that this case is resolved by the Court’s earlier decision that transferring water within a single water body does not add anything. Its opponents argue that the earlier decision does not apply because the District’s permit establishes that the District discharges pollutants. The Supreme Court’s holding will determine what kinds of precautions a municipality must take to design water treatment systems that comply with the permit system of the Clean Water Act. This decision will impact the way that state and local government agencies plan to reduce pollution and allocate their risks and resources.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

The Clean Water Act regulates the addition of pollutants to the navigable waters of the United States, including pollutants stemming from municipal stormwater systems. 33 U.S.C. §1342(p).

The questions presented by this petition are:

1. Do "navigable waters of the United States" include only "naturally occurring" bodies of water so that construction of engineered channels or other man-made improvements to a river as part of municipal flood and storm control renders the improved portion no longer a "navigable water" under the Clean Water Act?

2. When water flows from one portion of a river that is navigable water of the United States, through a concrete channel or other engineered improvement in the river constructed for flood and stormwater control as part of a municipal separate storm sewer system, into a lower portion of the same river, can there be a "discharge" from an "outfall" under the Clean Water Act, notwithstanding this Court's holding in South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, 541 U.S. 95, 105 (2004), that transfer of water within a single body of water cannot constitute a "discharge" for purposes of the Act?

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Decker, et al., v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center and Georgia-Pacific West, et al., v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center

Unpublished

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has interpreted the Clean Water Act (CWA) in such a way so that certain logging activities that cause polluted water to runoff of forest roads and into ditches, culverts, or pipes are exempt from the permit process. Relying on §1365 of the CWA, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC) brought citizen’s lawsuit in federal district court in an attempt to eliminate the exemption from the permit process. The Petitioners argue that a citizen's lawsuit was impermissible in this case because of §1369 of the CWA. The parties also do not agree on the level of deference that the EPA should have been given in interpreting its regulations. Furthermore, the NEDC takes issue with the way EPA interprets several key phrases in the CWA, which affects the substance of the EPA’s decision. The ability the federal courts to review agency action as well as the scope of an agency’s authority are at stake in this case. Also, the Supreme Court’s decision can clarify the ability of citizens to bring an action to change the EPA’s course of action under the CWA. Finally, these procedural and administrative questions could ultimately have an effect on the environment and water quality as well as the procedures loggers must follow to ensure they comply with the CWA.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

DECKER, ET AL. V. NORTHWEST ENVTL. DEFENSE CENTER

 

(1) Congress has authorized citizens dissatisfied with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rules implementing the Clean Water Act’s (CWA’s) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program to seek judicial review of those rules in the Courts of Appeals. See 33 U.S.C. § 1369(b). Congress further specified that those rules cannot be challenged in any civil or criminal enforcement proceeding. Consistent with the terms of the statute, multiple circuit courts have held that if a rule is reviewable under 33 U.S.C. § 1369, it is exclusively reviewable under that statute and cannot be challenged in another proceeding.

 

Did the Ninth Circuit err when, in conflict with those circuits, it held that a citizen may bypass judicial review of an NPDES permitting rule under 33 U.S.C. § 1369, and may instead challenge the validity of the rule in a citizen suit to enforce the CWA?

 

(2) In 33 U.S.C. § 1342(p), Congress required NPDES permits for stormwater discharges “associated with industrial activity,” and delegated to EPA the responsibility to determine what activities qualified as “industrial” for purposes of the permitting program. EPA determined that stormwater from logging roads and other specified silvicultural activities is non-industrial stormwater that does not require an NPDES permit. See 40 C.F.R. § 122.26(b)(14).

 

Did the Ninth Circuit err when it held that stormwater from logging roads is industrial stormwater under the CWA and EPS’s rules, even though EPA has determined that it is not industrial stormwater?

 

GEORGIA-PACIFIC WEST, ET AL. V. NORTHWEST ENVTL. DEFENSE CENTER

 

Since passage of the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has considered runoff of rain from forest roads-whether channeled or not--to fall outside the scope of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) and thus not to require a permit as a point source discharge of pollutants. Under a rule first promulgated in 1976, EPA consistently has defined as nonpoint source activities forest road construction and maintenance from which natural runoff results. And in regulating stormwater discharges under 1987 amendments to the Act, EPA again expressly excluded runoff from forest roads. In consequence, forest road runoff long has been regulated as a nonpoint source using best management practices, like those imposed by the State of Oregon on the roads at issue here.

EPA’s consistent interpretation of more than 35 years has survived proposed regulatory revision and legal challenge, and repeatedly has been endorsed by the United States in briefs and agency publications.

 

The Ninth Circuit--in conflict with other circuits, contrary to the position of the United States as amicus, and with no deference to EPA--rejected EPA’s longstanding interpretation. Instead, it directed EPA to regulate channeled forest road runoff under a statutory category of stormwater discharges “associated with industrial activity,” for which a permit is required. The question presented is:

 

Whether the Ninth Circuit should have deferred to EPA’s longstanding position that channeled runoff from forest roads does not require a permit, and erred when it mandated that EPA regulate such runoff as industrial stormwater subject to NPDES.

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Issue(s)

Whether citizens can file a lawsuit to challenge the validity of the EPA granting an exception to the Natioanl Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirement.

If a citizen's lawsuit is permissible, what level of deference, if any, should be given to the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act and the NPDES permit requirements with respect to the logging industry.

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Edited by: 

Entergy Corp v. EPA (07-588); PSEG Fossil LLC v. Riverkeeper, Inc. (07-589); Utility Water Act Group v. Riverkeeper, Inc. (07-597)

Oral argument: Dec. 2, 2008

Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit (Jan. 25, 2007)

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