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Sierra Club v. EPA

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 20269
Nos. 96-1007, 129 F.3d 137/(D.C. Cir., 11/04/1997)

The court holds that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that creates a 12-month grace period exempting transportation projects in nonattainment and maintenance areas from Clean Air Act (CAA) §176(c) is contrary to the plain meaning of the CAA. The court first holds that an environmental group has standing to challenge the grace period. There is no doubt that the grace period subjects affected parties to the environmental exposures that the regulatory provisions suspended by the grace period seek to limit. It follows that the grace period will cause injury to the environmental group members residing in newly designated nonattainment areas, and that this injury could be redressed by eliminating the grace period. The court then holds that EPA's proposed grace period exempting designated nonattainment areas from the CAA's transportation conformity requirements violates the plain terms of the CAA and, therefore, is unlawful. CAA §176(c) requires a transportation project to be in conformity with applicable state implementation plans or interim requirements in order to receive federal approval or funding. In amendments to the CAA, Congress clarified that the transportation conformity requirements apply to nonattainment areas and maintenance areas. It did not provide any grace periods or other exemptions for areas redesignated from attainment to nonattainment, and there are no provisions in the CAA that imply EPA has the authority to create such exemptions. Accordingly, the grace period impermissibly creates an exception to the unqualified requirement in the statute that the federal government cannot approve a transportation activity unless that activity has complied with the conformity rules.

Counsel for Petitioner
Howard L. Fox
Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund
1625 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Ste. 702, Washington DC 20036
(202) 667-4500

Counsel for Respondents
Eileen T. McDonough
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Ginsburg and Tatel, JJ.