Posted by Tim Dowling
"EPA Likely To Lose Suit."
So said EPA, or at least EPA's legal staff, when it briefed Administrator Johnson on the legal ramifications of a waiver denial. The quoted language comes from a powerpoint slide used during that briefing. As the WashPost reports, Johnson's waiver denial flew in the face of "the unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staff."
(more after the jump)
California’s legal challenge to the waiver denial will be filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and one large reason for believing EPA will lose can be found in the D.C. Circuit’s opinions in previous waiver cases. Unlike Administrator Johnson, the D.C. Circuit clearly recognizes the special, leading role California plays under the Clean Air Act with respect to controls on tailpipe emissions.
For example, in Motor & Equipment Mfrs. Ass’n v. Nichols, 142 F.3d 449, 543 (D.C. Cir. 1998), the D.C. Circuit ruled that waiver process is designed “to afford California the broadest possible discretion in selecting the best means to protect the health of its citizens and the public welfare.” (quoting the House Report).
In a more comprehensive discussion in Engine Mfrs. Ass’n v. U.S. EPA, 88 F.3d 1075 (D.C. Cir. 1996), the court explained: “Congress recognized that California was already the ‘leader in the establishment of standards for regulation of automotive pollutant emissions’ at a time when the federal government had yet to promulgate any regulations of its own. California’s Senator Murphy convinced his colleagues that the entire country would benefit from his state's continuing its pioneering efforts, California serving as ‘a kind of laboratory for innovation.’ This function was enhanced by the 1977 amendments, which permitted other states to ‘opt in’ to the California standards by adopting identical standards as their own. Thus, motor vehicles must be either ‘federal cars’ designed to meet the EPA's standards or ‘California cars’ designed to meet California’s standards. Rather than being faced with 51 different standards, as they had feared, or with only one, as they had sought, manufacturers must cope with two regulatory standards under the legislative compromise embodied in § 209(a). Id. at 1079-80 (citations and footnotes omitted).
The D.C. Circuit also examined the waiver process in Motor & Equipment Mfrs. Ass’n v. EPA, 627 F.2d 1095 (D.C. Cir. 1979), an unsuccessful industry challenge to EPA’s waiver grant for California rules concerning in-use maintenance of motor vehicles. Tracking the language of the statute, the court observed that EPA must grant a waiver request unless it makes one of the three findings set forth in Section 209(b)(1)(A)-(C). Id. at 1106. The issue is emphatically NOT whether the California rules are a good idea as a matter of policy, but whether EPA discharged its duties under the CAA. Id. at 1105.
Johnson’s bogus concern that a waiver grant here would create a “confusing patchwork” simply cannot be reconciled with the Clean Air Act and the applicable precedents that construe the waiver provisions in Section 209. Expect the D.C. Circuit to make short work of it.