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United States v. General Motors Corp.

Citation: 19 ELR 21285
No. No. 88-1799, 876 F.2d 1060/29 ERC 1689/(1st Cir., 06/07/1989) Rev'd

The court rules that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) failure to complete its review of Clean Air Act state implementation plan (SIP) revisions within the required four months does not bar it from enforcing an existing SIP during the interval between the end of the four-month period and the time EPA finally rules on the revision. The court first rules that the four-month time limit in Clean Air Act § 110(a)(2) for EPA review of original SIPs also applies to EPA's review of proposed SIP revisions. The court notes that it need not defer to EPA's contrary interpretation. Although congressional intent is ambiguous, EPA has a substantial institutional interest in not imposing contraints on itself. The states' ability to tailor SIPs to local conditions would be unduly restricted if EPA does not act promptly on SIP revisions. This result also ensures that EPA will not give a lower priority to SIP revisions from First Circuit states than those from states in circuits that have imposed a deadline. The court next rules that EPA's failure to complete its review of SIP revisions within four months does not bar it from enforcing an existing SIP during the interval between the end of the four-month period and the time EPA rules on the revisions. Taking a middle course between the rulings of the D.C. and Fifth Circuits, the court adopts a twofold remedy. First, if a company believes that EPA is taking too long to review a proposed SIP revision, the company may at any time after the end of the four-month period bring a citizen suit in the district court under Clean Air Act § 304(a)(2) to compel EPA to act. The district court must then evaluate the reasonableness of EPA's failure to meet the deadline. The district court must not equate EPA's failure to meet the deadline with unreasonableness, but must evaluate the circumstances of each case. Second, the district court may adjust the penalties in a § 113 enforcement action to account for EPA's delay.

[The district court's decision is published at 18 ELR 20853.]

Counsel for Appellant
David C. Shilton
Land and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-5580

Counsel for Appellee
Theodore L. Garrett
Covington & Burling
1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, P.O. Box 7566, Washington DC 20006
(202) 662-6000

Before CAMPBELL, Chief Judge, COFFIN and TORRUELLA, Circuit Judges.