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Virginia v. EPA

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20718
Nos. No. 95-1163, 108 F.3d 1397/(D.C. Cir., 03/11/1997)

The court invalidates a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that required states in the northeastern ozone transport commission (OTC) to adopt California's vehicle-emissions program. The court first holds that EPA improperly conditioned approval of a state's revised state implementation plan (SIP) on the state's adoption of the California program. Although EPA purported to offer states an alternative to the California program, that substitute program imposed far more stringent requirements. Thus, as a practical matter, EPA required all northeastern states to adopt the California standard. The court next holds that Clean Air Act (CAA) §110 does not allow EPA to condition approval of a SIP on the state's adoption of a particular control measure. The 1990 CAA Amendments did not alter the division of responsibilities between EPA and the states in the §110 process. Each state determines an emission reduction program for its nonattainment areas, subject to EPA approval, within the statutory deadlines.

The court then holds that EPA's rule is invalid, because §177, read together with §202, forbids EPA from conditioning its approval of a SIP on the state's adoption of the California program to limit motor-vehicle emissions. CAA § 202(b)(3)(C) prohibits EPA from adopting a rule that modifies statutory numerical emission standards for any model year before the model year 2004. The standards preempt the laws of every state except California. To the extent that EPA's final rule requiring states in the northeastern OTC to adopt California's vehicle-emissions program can be viewed as setting emissions standards for new motor vehicles in the northeastern states stricter than those contained in § 202, the rule is inconsistent with the statute. Although §177 provides states the option of adopting the California program, it does not grant authority for EPA to impose the program on states that oppose it. Section 177 gives states the discretion to pass laws containing California's emission standards and EPA's rule takes this choice from the states. The court also holds that EPA had no basis for determining that each of the SIPs of northeastern OTC member states was substantially inadequate to comply with §110 requirements.

Counsel for Petitioners
John P. Woodley Jr., Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
900 E. Main St., Richmond VA 23219
(804) 786-2071

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

Before: WILLIAMS, RANDOLPH, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges.