American Textile Mfrs. Institute, Inc. v. Donovan

PETITIONER: American Textile Manufacturers Institute, Inc., et al.
RESPONDENT: Raymond J. Donovan, Secretary of Labor
LOCATION: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration

DOCKET NO.: 79-1429
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 452 US 490 (1981)
ARGUED: Jan 21, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1981

George H. Cohen - on behalf of the Union respondents
Kenneth Steven Geller - on behalf of the Respondent Marshall
Robert H. Bork - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1970, Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act), which authorized the Secretary of Labor to enact mandatory nationwide standards to govern workplace safety. On December 26, 1978, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a proposal to change the federal standard regarding cotton dust exposure. There was a 90-day comment period followed by a series of hearings over the course of two weeks. After the hearings, the Secretary of Labor, Raymond J. Donovan, determined that exposure to cotton dust represented a significant health risk that warranted the adoption of the new standard. The new standard required a mix of engineering controls, such as the installation of pieces of equipment, along with work practice controls, and required these changes within four years. The petitioners, representing the interests of the cotton industry, challenged the validity of the standard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They argued that the Act required OSHA to demonstrate a reasonable relationship between the costs and benefits associated with the standard. The Court of Appeals held that OSHA had done everything required by the Act.


Does the Occupational Safety and Health Act require OSHA to demonstrate that the reduction of risk is significant enough to offset the costs of adopting a new standard?

Media for American Textile Mfrs. Institute, Inc. v. Donovan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1981 in American Textile Mfrs. Institute, Inc. v. Donovan

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in American Textile Manufacturers Institute v. The Secretary of Labor, and National Cotton Council v. The Secretary of Labor; consolidated cases.

Mr. Bork, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Robert H. Bork:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

These cases are here on writ of certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

That Court upheld a health standard promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the standard specifies the maximum amount of respirable cotton dust that may be in the air of any textile plant.

It is intended to reduce the incidence of byssinosis, which is a respiratory condition associated with cotton dust.

Petitioner in one case are... American Textile Manufacturers Association or ATMI, a trade association, and 12 manufacturer members.

Petitioners in the other case are the National Cotton Council, which represents all seven segments of the cotton industry from farmers to textile manufacturing.

The standard is extraordinarily severe and costly; it requires textile manufacturers to reduce cotton dust within four years to.2 milligrams per cubic meter of air in all yarn manufacturing processes and to.75 milligrams per cubic meter in all weaving processes.

Now this standard was arrived at by OSHA by applying their carcinogen policy, which this Court remembers from Benzene.

The Benzene case requires that the exposure limit be set at the lowest feasible level.

It is ironic that just two days ago OSHA rescinded its carcinogen policy.

Mr. Bork, how do you define the word feasible in that statute?

Robert H. Bork:

Well in a variety of ways, Justice Rehnquist.

In the first place, my first point will be that, to find a standard economically feasible, OSHA must have an estimate of costs which is based upon substantial evidence.

It must then find what those costs mean to the industry, what impact it will have upon the industry; how many jobs, how much investment will be lost because of that cost.

And finally, it has to have a legal criteria by which it is able to state that the impact it finds is economically feasible.

And did you draw that definition from the Congressional language or legislative history?

Robert H. Bork:

From the Congressional language and also it seems to me, Justice Rehnquist, that it is impossible to say that something is feasible without knowing what it will do to the industry.

And OSHA has made no finding here of what it will do to the industry other than to say that some undefined number of plants may close.

Well, and that the industry as such would not go... not cease to exist?

Robert H. Bork:

The industry as such, Justice Stewart, will not cease to exist is all they have said.

That finding is thoroughly consistent with 90 percent of the industry being left, or 50 percent of the industry being left, or 10 percent of the industry being left.

In fact, the literal language that OSHA uses would be satisfied if there were a single mil left.

That standard of the industry will continue to exist is not a standard at all.

But it is the one that OSHA applied?

Robert H. Bork:

That's the only one, that's right, Justice Stewart.

And one of our contentions is that that standard, if that is considered to be a standard, means that nobody knows what OSHA is doing; judicial review is impossible, and you have the completely uncanalized power over industry that this Court found improper on the benefit side of the act.

Here, they are claiming the same power through their power to impose costs without limit, or without any real limit.

Well Mr. Bork, if while the Benzene case was pending here, the Board had revoked its carcinogen policy, as you say it now has, would we have remanded that Benzene case for reconsideration?