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Steeltech, Ltd. v. EPA

ELR Citation: 32 ELR 20333
Nos. No. 00-2008, 273 F.3d 652/(6th Cir., 11/28/2001)

The court affirms an administrative law judge's (ALJ's) use of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act's (EPCRA's) enforcement response policy (ERP) in assessing penalties against a metal manufacturer for failure to file timely reports regarding its processing of toxic chemicals. The court first holds that the ALJ's assessment of civil penalties against the manufacturer under the ERP was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The ALJ understood that the ERP was only a policy, not a rule, and that it had discretion to depart from the ERP if there was reason for doing so. The ALJ also gave detailed reasons for applying the ERP in this case and correctly concluded that the manufacturer's lack of culpability was not a reason for departing from the ERP-recommended penalty, especially given the strict liability nature of EPCRA. Further, the ALJ's comment that there were no extraordinary circumstances in the case that would suggest deviation from the ERP does not indicate that the ALJ applied too exacting a standard for deviating from the ERP. The ALJ's statement that the case does not involve extraordinary circumstances must be read as meaning only that this case does not present circumstances that raise policy issues not accounted for in the ERP, and, thus, that departure from the ERP is not warranted. The court also holds that the record fully support the ALJ's factual determination. The manufacturer misconstrued the substantial evidence standard of review in arguing that the ERP should not have been applied. The manufacturer argued that there was substantial evidence on the record to support its position that the ERP should not have been applied at all, rather than challenging specific factual determinations in the record. Under the substantial evidence standard, the court's review of the ALJ's factual determinations is limited to deciding whether those determinations are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole—not whether there was substantial evidence in the record for a result other than that arrived at by the ALJ is affirmed.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Scott J. Steiner
Rhoades, McKee, Boer, Goodrich & Titta
161 Ottawa Ave., Grand Rapids MI 49503
(616) 235-3500

Counsel for Defendant
Joan M. Pepin
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Moore, J. Before Keith and Boggs, JJ.