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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Browner

Citation: 25 ELR 21219
No. No. 94-1647, 57 F.3d 1122/40 ERC 2057/(D.C. Cir., 06/27/1995)

The court upholds a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that allows a state to stop Clean Air Act (CAA) § 179(a)'s 18-month countdown to imposition of sanctions when it is triggered by an EPA finding that the state failed to submit a complete state implementation plan (SIP). Under the rule, a state may stop the "sanctions clock" by submitting a complete SIP that corrects the specific deficiency that started the clock, even if the SIP is ultimately unapprovable due to substantive inadequacies. Applying the analysis of an agency's statutory interpretation set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 14 ELR 20507 (1984), the court first finds that the language and context of § 179 clearly reveal that Congress intended to allow states to avoid mandatory sanctions by correcting only the specific deficiency that initially triggered the sanctions countdown. Petitioner environmental group presented no persuasive evidence that Congress intended any meaning other than that suggested by a straightforward reading of § 179. The additional delay that EPA's interpretation of § 179 allows in the SIP process is not incompatible with the Act's multifaceted scheme as a whole. The group's reliance on legislative history is not persuasive, because the group points to general expressions of the need to avoid delay, and these statements provide no real insight into the question presented and consequently carry no weight. EPA points out that the remedy for deficient plan submissions was neither raised in the conference report for the CAA Amendments of 1990 nor specifically addressed except as provided in the statute itself, and the treatment of the mandatory sanctions provision in the report for the House of Representatives' version of the amendments cuts against the group's interpretation.

Counsel for Petitioner
Sharon M. Buccino
Martin, Craig, Chester & Sonnenschein
55 W. Monroe St., Chicago IL 60603
(312) 368-9700

Counsel for Respondents
Ronald M. Spritzer
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530

Before: WALD, ROGERS and TATEL, Circuit Judges.