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Environmental Defense Fund v. EPA

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20631
Nos. 97-1637, 167 F.3d 641/48 ERC 1193/(D.C. Cir., 03/02/1999)

The court holds unlawful U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that allow both local approval and federal funding of transportation projects that fail to satisfy the Clean Air Act's (CAA's) state implementation plan (SIP) conformity requirements. The court first holds that the EPA regulation allowing local officials to approve a nonfederally funded transportation project as long as it once appeared in a conforming transportation plan and program, even if the plan and program no longer conform to the SIP, violates the CAA's requirement that projects come from a conforming plan and program. Giving words their ordinary meaning, the phrase "comes from a conforming plan and program" refers to projects that come from a currently conforming plan and program. Moreover, if one were to read the word "conforming" otherwise, there would be no assurance that approved projects would help eliminate, reduce, or prevent violations of national ambient air quality standards as required by CAA §176. In addition, by requiring plans and programs to conform to applicable SIPs at the time of project approval, Congress sought to ensure that transportation plans and programs serve as part of the pollution control strategy for metropolitan areas.

The court then holds that EPA's "grandfather" regulation allowing transportation projects to receive federal funding during plan and program conformity lapses violates the CAA. The CAA's conformity requirement expressly prohibits the U.S. Department of Transportation from approving, accepting, or funding a project unless it comes from a conforming plan or program. This means that no transportation project may receive federal funds in the absence of a currently conforming plan and program. The court next remands to EPA regulations that permit or require plan, program, and project conformity to be based on motor vehicle emissions budgets in SIP revisions that a state has submitted to EPA, but that EPA has not yet approved or has disapproved. Last, the court holds that a regulation that would allow a submitted but unapproved SIP revision to supersede an approved SIP violates the CAA.

A dissenting judge would hold that the EPA regulations are reasonable interpretations of the CAA.

Counsel for Petitioners
Robert E. Yuhnke
Environmental Defense Fund
1405 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder CO 80302
(303) 440-4901

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

Before Wald, J., with Williams, J., dissenting