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General Motors Corp. v. Ruckelshaus

Citation: 14 ELR 20704
No. Nos. 80-1868 et al., 742 F.2d 1561/21 ERC 1529/(D.C. Cir., 09/07/1984) Rule upheld en banc

The court rules that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) 1980 rule requiring motor vehicle manufacturers to repair all vehicles in a class recalled for violations of the Clean Air Act, including those that have exceeded their statutory "useful lives," is an interpretative rule not subject to notice and comment requirements, and is a permissible interpretation of § 207 of the Act. The court reverses en banc its earlier ruling in the case, 14 ELR 20110. The court first rules that EPA properly characterized its rule as interpretative. While the distinction between interpretative and legislative rules is blurry, EPA's conclusion is consistent with the operative general principles. The Agency's characterization is entitled to some weight; its justification for the rule consists entirely of statutory interpretation; and the rule did not create any new rights and duties. The court observes in a lengthy footnote that EPA had consistently treated § 207 as requiring recall of vehicles past their statutory lives, even though EPA was never called upon to make a formal statement of that interpretation. For this reason, the court rejects the argument, made by petitioner and adopted by dissent, that EPA's interpretation was made for the first time in the context of the very recall contested by petitioner and thus does establish new duties.

The court also rules that EPA's interpretation is permissible under § 207(c)(1) of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes EPA to order manufacturers to submit remedial plans for classes of vehicles or engines when a substantial number in the class do not conform to EPA emission limits throughout their useufl life, despite proper maintenance. The court rejects petitioner's argument that since "nonconformity" is described with reference to vehicles in their period of useful life and a remedial plan is to address the nonconformity, there is no need to include vehicles that have outlived their useful lives in the remedial plan or recall. EPA reasonably read § 207(c) to trigger remedial planning only for substantial nonconformity among vehicles within their useful life, but to require correcting the nonconformity in the entire class, regardless of age. The legislative history provides further support for EPA's interpretation in reference to classwide recalls and the fact that Congress did not change § 207(c)in 1977 even though the pre-1977 industry practice of recalling entire classes demonstrated an unwritten EPA policy requiring classwide recall. The court also rejects petitioner's argument that one statement in the Senate Committee Report demonstrates an intent to limit recalls to vehicles still in their useful lives. The weight of the single passage is trivial compared to the support for EPA's interpretation, and the bill under consideration at the time the Report was written did not include a recall provision similar to that later embodied in § 207. Finally, the court concludes that EPA's interpretation is consistent with the Clean Air Act's purpose of improving air quality to protect the public health, welfare, and productive capacity.

Three of the 11 judges, dissenting, would grant the interpretative rule little deference and would read the statute and legislative history to bar recall of vehicles that have surpassed their statutory useful lives.

Counsel are listed at 14 ELR 20110.

Before: ROBINSON, Chief Judge, WRIGHT, TAMM, WILKEY, WALD, MIKVA, EDWARDS, GINSBURG, SCALIA and STARR, Circuit Judges, and BAZELON, Senior Circuit Judge.