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General Motors Corp. v. Ruckelshaus

ELR Citation: 14 ELR 20110
Nos. Nos. 80-1868 et al., 724 F.2d 979/20 ERC 1097/(D.C. Cir., 12/16/1983) Rule vacated

The court vacates the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) automobile emission control system recall rule issued pursuant to §207(c)(1) of the Clean Air Act as not supported by the Act's statutory language and legislative history. The EPA rule requires manufacturers to submit a plan to repair all members of a class of vehicles if EPA finds that a substantial number of the class do not conform to emission standards. The plan must include all cars in the vehicle class that may have experienced the nonconformity during their statutorily defined useful life of five years or 50,000 miles, even though these cars may exceed their useful life when presented to the manufacturer for repair.

First, the court holds that the challenged rule is interpretive, not legislative. EPA's interpretation of §207(c)(1) is entitled to some but not great deference because EPA relied on statutory language and not Agency technical expertise in developing the rule. The court then rules that EPA wrongly interpreted §207(c)(1) to require cars that have passed their useful life to be included in the repair plan. EPA cannot require adjustments to old cars because these cars are not subject to emission standards under the Act. The statute does not raise a presumption that older "nonconforming" cars were also nonconforming during their useful lives. The court holds that EPA does not cure this defect in its interpretation by allowing manufacturers to perform the identical mechanical adjustment on old and new cars even though these adjustments do not bring old cars up to emission standards. The court further holds that EPA's interpretative rule is inconsistent with the legislative history of the Clean Air Act. A 1970 Senate committee report on the recall provision states that manufacturers are not required to notify owners of cars five or more years old of a recall plan nor are they required to repair cars past the five-year/50,000-mile warranty period. Although a fast-track recall provision in the Senate bill was deleted from the final Act, the court holds the Senate legislative history still relevant.

A concurring opinion would hold the rule invalid based on the language of §207(c)(1), and, further, would have the court read §207(c) to empower EPA to order recall of all cars still within their useful life when EPA gives notice to their manufacturer of nonconformance.

A dissent would uphold the rule as supported by the language, purpose, and history of the Act. It argues that Congress intended the recall system to be workable, which is possible only if an entire class or category of cars is subject to recall.

Counsel for Petitioner
George F. Ball, William L. Weber Jr.
General Motors Corp., General Motors Bldg., 3044 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit MI 48202
(313) 556-5000

Theodore Souris, Michael B. Lewiston, James A. Smith, Terence B. Larkin, Fredrick J. Dindoffer
Bodman, Longley & Dahling
14th Floor, 100 Renaissance Ctr., Detroit MI 48243
(313) 259-7777

Counsel for Respondent
Samuel I. Gutter
Office of the General Counsel
Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC 20460
(202) 382-7625

Before: WILKEY and WALD, Circuit Judges, and BAZELON, Senior Circuit Judge.