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California ex rel. Sacramento Metro. Air Quality Management Dist. v. United States

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20493
Nos. CIV. S-98-0437 FCD JFM, 29 F. Supp. 2d 652/(E.D. Cal., 11/13/1998)

The court holds that a local air pollution control agency cannot seek civil penalties from a U.S. Air Force base for past violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and state law. The court first holds that Congress, through the CAA, did not waive U.S. sovereign immunity from liability for civil penalties imposed by a state for past violations of the CAA or state law. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Department of Energy v. Ohio, 503 U.S. 607, 22 ELR 20804 (1992), that a state's claims for civil penalties for past violations of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The portions of the FWPCA's federal facilities provision on which the Supreme Court based its decision are similar, and in some cases identical, to those contained in the CAA's federal facilities provision. Like the FWPCA, the CAA's federal facilities provision distinguishes between substantive requirements and judicial process. Also, as in the FWPCA, each time the term "sanction" appears in the CAA, it is within the phrase "process and sanctions." Moreover, the CAA's omission of an FWPCA federal facilities provision phrase, which limits federal liability to civil penalties arising under federal law or imposed by a state court, does not support an inference that Congress intended to waive U.S. sovereignty under the CAA. Moreover, the court rejects the local agency's argument that Congress would not have exempted agencies, officers, agents, and employees in the CAA's federal facilities provision unless it intended to subject the United States to such civil penalties. The Supreme Court confronted the exact same proviso in the FWPCA and articulated no such congressional intent.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Catherine Spinelli, Timothy J. Miller
Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District
8411 Jackson Rd., Sacramento CA 95826
(916) 386-7003

Counsel for Defendants
Thomas Zimmerman
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000