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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Thomas

Citation: 17 ELR 20269
No. Nos. 85-1294, -1296, 805 F.2d 410/25 ERC 1129/(D.C. Cir., 11/07/1986)

In this action consolidating challenges by environmentalists and industry, the court holds that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulemaking under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate emissions from heavy duty motor vehicles is a reasonable implementation of the CAA, but that insufficient lead time for industry was allowed in the rules. The rules govern particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen emissions. After reviewing the history of the development of the rules and the commencement of this litigation, the court holds that CAA § 202(a)(3) does not require EPA to set emissions standards by balancing emissions reduction against cost and other factors only as these considerations would apply in the engine model which would achieve the greatest emissions reductions. Rather, EPA may balance the appropriate factors as they affect the entire engine manufacturing industry. The court observes that this interpretation is the most natural reading of the text of CAA § 202(a)(3) and is a reasonable reading of its legislative history, noting that where EPA adopts a reasonable reading of the statute it will be upheld.

The court next holds that CAA § 202(a)(3) permits EPA to adopt rules allowing emissions averaging among engine families to achieve compliance, rather than requiring compliance by each engine family. The court holds that CAA § 307(d)(7)(B) prohibits judicial review on whether the oxides of nitrogen standards may be set at the level attainable by diesel engines, which produce more emissions, or must be set at the level attainable by gasoline engines, which produce lower emissions, since this issue was not raised during the public comment period during the rulemaking. The court next holds that EPA may adopt standards for particulate matter emissions which force advances in the technology, rather than rely on already demonstrated technology, finding that EPA's interpretation of CAA § 202(a)(3)(iii) is reasonable. The court also finds that EPA did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in choosing the scientific basis for its standards.

Turning to procedural aspects of the EPA regulations, the court holds that EPA may not shorten the four-year lead time for industry compliance mandated by CAA § 202(a)(3)(B). EPA had missed the statutory deadline for promulgation of the regulations and consequently shortened the lead time for their effective date in an effort to come as close as possible to actual implementation by the statute's deadline. EPA had also lowered the requirements of the regulations so that a shorter lead time would be practically sufficient. The court holds that EPA nonetheless has no authority to shorten a statutorily prescribed lead time.

The court next holds that since the rulemaking's simultaneous promulgation of standards for 1988 and 1991 was not challenged during public comment, it is not now subject to judicial review, pursuant to CAA § 307(d)(7)(B). Similarly, a challenge that EPA promulgated regulations for 1994, even though its notice of proposed rulemaking only discussed standards for 1987 and 1990, is not subject to judicial review, since CAA § 307(d)(7)(B) provides for a petition for reconsideration in such cases prior to judicial review, and such a petition was not made in this case.

[A related decision, ordering the promulgation of these regulations, appears at 14 ELR 20817.]

Counsel for Petitioners
David D. Doniger
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
1350 New York Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20005
(202) 783-7800

Counsel for Respondents
David E. Dearing
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2741

Before WALD, Chief Judge, MIKVA, Circuit Judge, and LEIGHTON,* Senior District Judge.