Posted on October 4, 2016
More about that title later, but first let me set the stage. On September 27, 2016, the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, heard argument in West Virginia v. EPA, in which state, industry, and labor petitioners challenge EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP, the Plan, or the Rule). The Plan regulates carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants under Clean Air Act (CAA) §111(d). I will refrain from addressing issues on which the trade and mainstream press have opined at length (e.g., the judges’ frustration at being asked to make policy decisions because Congress has failed to act and that participants – judges, lawyers, parties, reporters, the public – had to sit through almost 7 hours of argument in one day, in addition to the hours many spent waiting in line). Instead, I offer an ACOEL-centric tour, in non-chronological order, of the five “segments” of the September 27 argument.
Argument Segment #2: The Battle Between CAA §§112 and 111(d). Aficionados of the College’s 2014 white paper on EPA’s §111(d) regulatory authority will recall the difference of opinion over whether – under the 1990 Amendments to the CAA – EPA is prohibited from regulating power plants under CAA §111(d) if EPA already regulates power plants under CAA §112. Plan challengers point to the plain meaning of §111(d)(1)(A) as it appears in the U.S. Code. Plan supporters point to the existence of a “conforming amendment” to §111(d)(1)(A) found in the Statutes at Large but omitted from the U.S. Code, and they argue that EPA’s approach is a valid attempt to reconcile that amendment with the U.S. Code. After listening to the judges express frustration at not being able to satisfyingly reconcile the two versions, I recalled D.C. Circuit Judge Leventhal’s concurring opinion in Citizens to Save Spencer County v. EPA, in which he concluded that contradictory CAA provisions should be viewed as “countermanding.” Quoting from Eugene Field’s poem “The Duel” – about the fight between the gingham dog and the calico cat – he summed up the irreconcilable differences as follows: “The tension between the two animals culminates in these final lines of doggerel: ‘The truth about the cat and pup is this, They ate each other up.’ ”
Argument Segment #3: Constitutional Issues. If forced at knife-point to articulate the first portion of this argument, which began at 2:35 p.m., right after the lunch break, I would be unable to do so, other than to say that the word “commandeering” cropped up a lot. More interesting was how the second advocate for petitioners on this point – Professor Laurence Tribe of Constitutional law fame – was able to expand his separation-of-powers argument into a further analysis of issues argued during the morning session.
Argument Segments #4 and #5: Notice and Record-Based Issues. At the end of a very long day, the panel heard arguments on (a) whether EPA’s standards are “achievable” and whether parts of the Plan’s approach have been “adequately demonstrated” under §111; and (b) whether the final rule is so different from what was proposed that the public lacked notice and an opportunity to comment. Petitioners arguing the former point (the unachievability of program requirements) faced a weary panel, which pondered what the options for state and source relief would be if the Rule is upheld but later turns out to be a train wreck.
A colleague describes as follows the situation that gives rise to parties complaining that they had no notice of what a final rule would require because EPA’s proposal was so different: “EPA may propose an apple and finalize an orange. That’s OK; they’re both fruits. What EPA may not do (and what petitioners argue EPA has done here) is to propose an apple and finalize a pork chop.” Dick Stoll passionately argued – in his June 7, 2016 post for ACOEL – that previous 3-judge panels in the D.C. Circuit have not properly dealt with this lack-of-notice issue. Those panels refused challengers’ attempts to overturn pork chops, saying challengers of pork chops must first file administrative petitions for review under CAA §307(d)(7)(B) and then wait (for what could be years, if ever) for EPA to act on those petitions. Dick argued that the only way the previous 3-judge panel decisions would ever be overturned was by action of the entire court, sitting en banc. I cannot promise Dick the entire court will overturn the previous panels’ reading of §307(d)(7)(B), but I can say that Tom Lorenzen teed up the issue. When asked by Judge Griffith whether this argument appeared in petitioners’ briefs, Lorenzen said it did not because when petitioners wrote their briefs, the case was going to be heard by a 3-judge panel. But said Lorenzen, looking up at Judge Griffith, “Now we are here.” To which Judge Griffith replied, “And who else to ask but an en banc court?” “Exactly,” said Lorenzen.
Argument Segment #1: Core Legal Issues. Although I visit Argument Segment #1 last, the fate of the Clean Power Plan may well rest on how the panel addresses the issue raised at the very beginning of the day: whether or not the Plan is “transformative.” The Supreme Court, in UARG v. EPA, held that EPA cannot engage in a “transformative expansion” of its regulatory authority absent “clear congressional authorization” to do so. Petitioners argue that EPA’s Clean Power Plan amounts to a transformative expansion of EPA’s explicit regulatory authority and thus is illegal. EPA argues the program is not “transformative”; indeed, says EPA, the Rule is very similar to other CAA programs that the D.C. Circuit has upheld. So, is the Rule “business as usual” or is it “transformative”?
And so we return to the title of this post. I cannot predict what the D.C. Circuit will decide, but I think its determination will revolve around how the en banc panel answers the following question about the Clean Power Plan: Is You Is or Is You Ain’t Transformative? And that question prompts me to offer these final lines of doggerel in memory (and honor) of Judge Leventhal:
To predict the end here, it’s informative
To know if C-P-P is transformative.
To prevail in this Court,
One must prove that the sort
Of change caused by that Rule is enormative.
Posted on August 10, 2015
Last year I published an article in Bloomberg BNA entitled “Protection of Judicial Review Watered Down in D.C. Circuit.” I focused on a recent D.C. Circuit ruling (UARG) I hoped would “turn out to be an unfollowed – and eventually forgotten – glitch.” The effect of the “glitch” is to delay interminably judicial review of final Clean Air Act (“CAA”) rule provisions that EPA never hinted might be included in a final rule – even though the un-foreshadowed provisions go into full force and effect.
The Court’s judges must have missed that BNA edition, because they have followed the same rationale at least twice more now – in their Mexichem opinion of May, 2015 and their “Transport Rule” (EME Homer) decision last week.
This regrettable situation arises from the Court’s new interpretation of a CAA provision (§307(d)(7)(B)) which is quoted in full in my BNA article. It begins with the hornbook proposition that you can’t attack a rule’s provision on judicial review on grounds that were not raised during the comment period. It then provides for a process known as a “petition for reconsideration.” If a party can show that it could not have raised an argument during the comment period, EPA must conduct a “reconsideration” process. EPA’s actions in response to the petition are then subject to judicial review. This provision has often been used where EPA supports a final rule with facts or rationale not included in the record when the public comment period was open.
Now consider the following hypothetical. Assume EPA proposes a CAA rule requiring boilers to install a certain type of control device. EPA’s final rule drops the control requirement and simply prohibits boilers from combusting coal, effective two years from the final rule’s issuance. EPA’s proposal never mentioned coal prohibition as an option, and no one suggested it in their comments. So most would assume that boiler owners could then file D.C. Circuit petitions for review and have slam-dunk arguments for vacatur.
As shown in my BNA article, the D.C. Circuit has on many occasions (as recently as December, 2013) done just that. But since then, EPA and DOJ lawyers have advanced what I think is a ludicrous position: when a party believes a final CAA rule provision was issued in violation of notice-and-comment requirements, it cannot pursue judicial review on that issue unless and until it first files a petition under §307(d)(7)(B) and waits for EPA to take final action on that petition.
Unfortunately, the D.C. Circuit has bought this position three times now. Here is how the D.C. Circuit summarized the point in EME Homer last week:
[P]etitioners argue that EPA violated the Clean Air Act’s notice and comment requirements by significantly amending the Rule between the proposed and final versions without providing additional opportunity for notice and comment. Because that argument is an objection to the notice and comment process itself, petitioners obviously did not and could not have raised it during the period for public comment. Under Subsection 7607(d)(7)(B), however, the only appropriate path for petitioners to raise this issue is through an initial petition for reconsideration to EPA.
Note the opinion in effect concedes just how absurd this is. The petitioners “obviously did not and could not” have raised this objection. How can one object to EPA’s failure to propose something that EPA failed to propose?
EPA almost always delays action on §307(d)(7)(B) petitions for years so in the hypothetical above, the coal prohibition would go into effect before judicial review could even begin. Boiler owners would either have to shut down operations or convert to non-coal burning facilities, at which point judicial review would become pointless. The effect: EPA stops coal burning at boilers by declining to propose such a requirement in the first place!
If you think EPA or the D.C. Circuit would out of fairness suspend application of rules in such situations, see the examples to the contrary in my BNA article and read the Mexichem opinion. If you think I am exaggerating about how long it takes for a §307(d)(7)(B) petition to be processed, see the examples in my BNA article. And consider that in last week’s EME Homer opinion, the Court concluded its discussion above by noting that at least one party had filed such a petition but that EPA had not yet acted upon it. That petition was filed in 2011.
Posted on August 3, 2015
In the latest chapter of Homer’s Odyssey, the DC Circuit, on remand from the Supreme Court, determined that EPA had exceeded its statutory authority by imposing uniform emissions reductions under the Transport Rule also known as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. On July 28, 2015, the DC Circuit held in EME Homer City Generation, L.P v. EPA that the 2014 sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions budgets for Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas, as well as the 2014 ozone-season nitrogen oxide (NOx) budgets for Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia are invalid. The court remanded without vacatur to EPA for reconsideration.
A brief history of Homer’s voyage so far.
In 2011, EPA promulgated the Transport Rule to address emissions from upwind States that contribute to nonattainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in a downwind State under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor provision”. 42 U.S.C. Sec. 7410(a)(2)(D)(i). Upwind States challenged the Rule, contending that it would lead to over-control of emissions in the upwind States. The Rule imposed uniform pollution reductions on upwind States regardless of the actual amount of pollution that individual upwind States contributed to the downwind States.
In 2012, the DC Circuit considered these over-control challenges, agreed with the petitioners, and vacated the Rule. See EME Homer City Generation, L.P. v. EPA, 696 F/3d 7 (D.C. Cir. 2012).
On review, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the potential for over-control did not require invalidation of the Rule on its face. To address potential over-control in an upwind State, the Court recognized that requiring emissions reductions by more than is necessary to achieve attainment in every downwind State to which it is linked would be impermissible. The Court explicitly authorized an upwind State to contest the emissions reductions under the Rule through “particularized, as-applied challenges.” EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P., 134 S.Ct. 1584 (2014).
On remand, the DC Circuit considered the “as-applied challenges” as informed by the Supreme Court decision. The DC Circuit evaluated the challenges by determining whether a downwind location would still attain its NAAQS if linked upwind States were subject to less stringent emissions limits. Based on the record, the Court determined that EPA’s uniform cost thresholds have required States to reduce pollutants beyond the point necessary to achieve downwind attainment, which violated the Supreme Court’s clear mandate.
Although invalidating the 2014 emissions budgets, the DC Circuit remanded without vacatur. The Court stated that on remand, the parties may provide new evidence, data, or calculations for EPA to consider in establishing emissions budgets.
What will be the next chapter in this Odyssey? What effect will the decision have on the emissions trading market developed around the 2014 emissions budget? Will there be further appeals? How and when will EPA reconsider the emissions budgets?
The voyage is not over!
Posted on June 3, 2014
On Friday, in a case argued by my colleague, Greg Garre and briefed by Leslie Ritts, the D.C. Circuit decided a closely watched case construing the EPA’s “regional uniformity” requirement under the Clean Air Act (CAA.) The court declared the agency’s directive to regional offices outside the Sixth Circuit to ignore a 2012 Sixth Circuit decision interpreting the CAA’s “single source” requirements as inconsistent with EPA’s uniformity requirement. The decision brings to light an important component of the CAA’s nationwide scheme.
Under the CAA, any “major source” of pollution is subject to certain heightened requirements. EPA regulations provide that multiple pollutant-emitting activities will be considered together for purposes of the “major source” analysis if they are—among other things—“adjacent.” But EPA has, in recent years at least, given “adjacent” an expansive and atextual meaning, concluding that even facilities separated by considerable physical distance should be deemed “adjacent” as long as they are “functionally interrelated.”
In 2012, the Sixth Circuit in Summit Petroleum Corp. v. EPA held that EPA’s interpretation was “unreasonable and contrary to the plain meaning of the term ‘adjacent.’” The EPA opted not to seek Supreme Court review of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling. A few months after the Summit decision, however, EPA circulated a directive to the Regional Air Directors informing them that the agency would abide by the Sixth Circuit’s decision within the Sixth Circuit, but that “[o]utside the [Sixth] Circuit, at this time, the EPA does not intend to change its longstanding practice of considering interrelatedness in the EPA permitting actions.”
The National Environmental Development Association’s Clean Air Project (NEDA/CAP), an industry group, filed a petition for review in the D.C. Circuit, challenging the EPA’s “Summit Directive” as contrary to the statute and EPA’s own regulations. NEDA/CAP explained that EPA’s Directive would impermissibly place NEDA/CAP members operating outside of the Sixth Circuit at a competitive disadvantage, subject to a more onerous permitting regime than their peers operating within the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdiction. That disparity between regions, NEDA/CAP explained, was inconsistent with the CAA’s requirement that EPA assure “uniformity in the criteria, procedures, and policies applied by the various regions,” 42 U. S. C. § 7601(a)(2), as well as EPA regulations that similarly require inter-regional uniformity.
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit issued a decision agreeing with NEDA/CAP in National Environmental Development Association’s Clean Air Project v. EPA. Rejecting EPA arguments that the policy could only be challenged in the context of a discrete stationary source permit application, the Court held that NEDA/CAP’s blanket challenge to the EPA’s creation of two different permitting regimes across the country could be challenged today because of the competitive disadvantages it created for companies operating in different parts of the country.
On the merits, the Court concluded that maintaining a standard in the Sixth Circuit different from the one applied elsewhere in the country was inconsistent with the agency’s regulatory commitment to national uniformity. The Court recognized that an agency is ordinarily free, under the doctrine of “intercircuit nonacquiescence,” to refuse to follow a circuit court’s holding outside that court’s jurisdiction. Here, however, the Court held that EPA’s own regulations required it to “respond to the Summit Petroleum decision in a manner that eliminated regional inconsistency, not preserved it.” Finding that the agency’s “current regulations preclude EPA’s inter-circuit nonacquiescence in this instance,” the Court vacated the directive.
The decision is noteworthy in a number of respects. Not only does the decision roundly reject EPA’s threshold objections to NEDA/CAP’s petition (standing, finality, and ripeness), but it appears to represent the first time a court has applied EPA’s uniformity regulations to invalidate a rule. The decision therefore puts a light on an important component of the CAA’s nationwide enforcement scheme—the “regional uniformity” requirement.
Posted on April 17, 2014
On April 15th, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s rule setting limits for emissions of mercury and other air toxics from fossil-fuel-fired electric steam generating units. The focus of the decision – and the issue on which Judge Kavanaugh dissented – was whether EPA was required to consider the costs that would be imposed by the rule. EPA said no and the majority agreed.
Section 112(n) of the Clean Air Act required EPA to perform a study of the health hazards related to hazardous emissions from EGUs prior to regulating them. How was EPA to utilize the results of the study?
"The Administrator shall regulate [EGUs] under this section, if the Administrator finds such regulation is appropriate and necessary after considering the results of the study required by this subparagraph."
The industry petitioners and Judge Kavanaugh took the position that Congress’s use of the word “appropriate” evidenced an intent to require EPA to consider costs. To Judge Kavanaugh, “that’s just common sense and sound government practice.” However, persuasive Judge Kavanaugh may be as a matter of policy, the majority was not persuaded that the law requires a consideration of cost.
As the majority noted, nothing in section 112(n) requires that EPA consider cost. Indeed, the word “cost” is not mentioned in section 112(n). Moreover, Congress required EPA to make the “appropriate and necessary” determination based on a study of health impacts, not a study of costs. Finally, as EPA and the majority noted, the Supreme Court, in Whitman v. American Trucking Ass’ns, c
autioned against finding authority – let alone a mandate – to consider costs in ambiguous provisions of the CAA, given that there are sections of the Act which do address costs.
I’m with Judge Kavanaugh as a matter of policy (though it’s worth noting that EPA in fact did a cost-benefit analysis and found that the benefits of the rule substantially outweigh its costs). On the law, however, the dissent seems pretty much a case of ipse dixit. When the rule was promulgated, I said that I would be “stunned” if the rule was not upheld on judicial review. Notwithstanding the dissent, I’d be equally stunned if the Supreme Court flips this decision. I don’t think that there’s anything here warranting Supreme Court review.