What Does Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Described by EPA in the “Tailoring Rule” have to do with the Clean Air Act?


(Tailoring Rule Litigation)

On June 23, 2014 Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court on the question of whether EPA motor vehicle greenhouse gas regulations necessarily automatically triggers permitting requirements under the CAA for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases. The statements in the opinion concerning EPA’s assertions of power are quite provoking. If read carefully, this opinion launches a warning to EPA about its future regulatory actions relative to greenhouse gases. The text of the opinion can be found here. The following quotes are offered as examples of that warning.  

“EPA’s interpretation is also unreasonable because it would bring about an enormous and transformative expansion in EPA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization. When an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate “a significant portion of the American economy,” Brown & Williamson, 529 U.S. at 159, we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism. We expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast “economic and political significance.” Id., at 160; See Also MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 512 U.S. 218, 231 (1994); Industrial Union Dept., APL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute, 448 U.S. 607, 645-646 (1980) (plurality opinion). Slip op at 19.

“. . . in EPA’s assertion of that authority, we confront a singular situation: an agency laying claim to extravagant statutory power over the national economy while at the same time strenuously asserting that the authority claimed would render the statute “unrecognizable to the Congress that designed” it. “ Slip op at 20.

“We are not willing to stand on the dock and wave goodbye as EPA embarks on this multiyear voyage of discovery. We reaffirm the core administrative-law principle that an agency may not rewrite clear statutory terms to suit its own sense of how the statute should operate.” Slip op at 23.

In a step wise fashion the opinion presents and answers the following:

1.  The question before the Court was “. . .whether it was permissible for EPA to determine that it motor-vehicle greenhouse-gas regulations automatically triggered permitting requirements under the Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.” Slip op at 2.

First we decide whether EPA permissibly interpreted the statute to provide that a source may be required to obtain a PSD or Title V permit on the sole basis of its potential greenhouse-gas emissions. Slip op at 10.

“It is plain as day that the Act does not envision an elaborate, burdensome permitting process for major emitters of steam, oxygen, or other harmless airborne substances. It takes some cheek for EPA to insist that it cannot possibly give “air pollutant” a reasonable, context-appropriate meaning in the PSD and Title V context when it has been doing precisely that for decades.” Slip op at 12.

Massachusetts does not strip EPA of authority to exclude greenhouse gases from the class of regulable air pollutants under other parts of the Act where their inclusion would be inconsistent with the statutory scheme.” Slip op at 14.

“In sum, there is no insuperable textual barrier to EPA’s interpreting “any air pollutant” in the permitting triggers of PSD and Title V to encompass only pollutants emitted in quantities that enable them to be sensibly regulated at the statutory thresholds, and to exclude those atypical pollutants that, like greenhouse gases, are emitted in such vast quantities that their inclusion would radically transform those programs and render them unworkable as written.” Slip op at 16.

2.  . . . we next consider the Agency’s alternative position that its interpretation was justified as an exercise of its “discretion” to adopt “a reasonable construction of the statute.” Tailoring Rule 31517. We conclude that EPA’s interpretation is not permissible.” Slip op at 16.

“EPA itself has repeatedly acknowledged that applying the PSD and Title V permitting requirements to greenhouse gases would be inconsistent with – in fact, would overthrow – the Act’s structure and design.” Slip op at 17.

“A brief review of the relevant statutory provisions leaves no doubt that the PSD program and Title V are designed to apply to, and cannot rationally be extended beyond, a relative handful of large sources capable of shouldering heavy substantive and procedural burdens.” Slip op at 18.

3.  “We now consider whether EPA reasonably interpreted the Act to require those sources to comply with “best available control technology” emission standards for greenhouse gases.” Slip op at 25.

“EPA argues that carbon capture is reasonably comparable to more traditional, end-of-stack BACT technologies, . . . and petitioners do not dispute that.” Slip op at 26. “. . . it has long been held that BACT cannot be used to order a fundamental redesign of the facility.” “. . . EPA has long interpreted BACT as required only for pollutants that the source itself emits; accordingly, EPA acknowledges that BACT may not be used to require “reductions in a facility’s demand for energy from the electric grid.” Slip op at 27.

“The question before us is whether EPA’s decision to require BACT for greenhouse gases emitted by sources otherwise subject to PSD review is, as a general matter, a permissible interpretation of the statute under Chevron. We conclude that it is.” Slip op at 27.

“We acknowledge the potential for greenhouse-gas BACT to lead to an unreasonable and unanticipated degree of regulation, and our decision should not be taken as an endorsement of all aspects of EPA’s current approach, nor as free rein for any future regulatory application of BACT in this distinct context. Our narrow holding is that nothing in the statute categorically prohibits EPA from interpreting the BACT provision to apply to greenhouse gases emitted by “anyway” sources.” Slip op at 28.

Opinion of Breyer, with whom Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan join, concurring in part and dissenting in part. Rather than exempting certain air pollutants like greenhouse gas emissions from the statute, it makes more sense to read into the statute an exemption for certain sources that were never intended to be subject to PSD.

Opinion of Alito, with whom Thomas joins, comments that Massachusetts v. EPA was wrongly decided at the time, and these cases further expose the flaw with that decision.

Twenty-seven years of experience practicing environmental, regulatory, and natural resources law have enabled Kathy Beckett to develop a national reputation for her ability to influence environmental policies on behalf of her clients. She has been instrumental in the development of national and state regulatory programs and the drafting of environmental legislation.
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