Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

PETITIONER: Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
RESPONDENT: Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. et al.
LOCATION: Environmental Protection Agency

DOCKET NO.: 82-1005
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 467 US 837 (1984)
ARGUED: Feb 29, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1984
GRANTED: May 31, 1983

David D. Doniger - on behalf of respondent
Paul M. Bator - on behalf of petitioner

Facts of the case

The Clean Air Act (the Act) required states that had not yet achieved national air quality standards to establish a permit program regulating new or modified major stationary sources of air pollution, such as manufacturing plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed a regulation under the Act that allows states to treat all pollution-emitting devices in the same industrial grouping as though they were a single “bubble”. Using this bubble provision, plants may install or modify one piece of equipment without needing a permit if the alteration does not increase the total emissions of the plant. Several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, challenged the bubble provision as contrary to the Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit set aside the EPA regulation as inappropriate for a program enacted to improve air quality.


Does the Clean Air Act permit the EPA to define the term "stationary source" to mean whole industrial plants only, which allows plants to build or modify units within plants without the permit required under the Act?

Media for Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 29, 1984 in Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Chevron against National Resources Council.

Mr. Bator, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Paul M. Bator:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case involves the validity of an important regulation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977.

The regulation addresses the question of what counts as a "source" for purposes of activating a permit program called the new source review program.

Under the statute, the states must impose new source review in certain areas of the country in situations where construction or modification of a major stationary source of air pollution would lead to significant emissions increases, and the question is: What is a source?

The regulation at issue allows the states... it doesn't compel them... it allows them to adopt a plant-wide definition of the term "source".

This is sometimes called the bubble definition.

The Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia held that the bubble definition is unlawful; that the administrator has no discretion in how to define "source"; that the statute compels one rigid definition; and we are here asking this Court to correct that holding and to hold that the regulation and the definition fell within the lawful discretion of the administrator.

Byron R. White:

Do you suppose the Court of Appeals would have had the same view had the agency taken the same definition from the outset?

Paul M. Bator:

We believe so.

The Court of Appeals did not seem to be worried about the fact--

Byron R. White:

That it's changed its mind.

Paul M. Bator:

--that the agency has in fact exercised its discretion in a number of different--

Byron R. White:

Ways, yes.

Paul M. Bator:

--with a number of different resolutions of the problem from time to time.

The relevant provisions of the Act, I want to give a little bit of background here to the statutory structure.

They comprise Part D of the Act, and they were passed in '77 to regulate so-called 1977 met the original deadlines for attaining national air quality standards.

For these areas, the Congress in '77 adopted a rather elaborately calibrated set of requirements which were designed to achieve three overall goals:

One was to assure steady progress toward attainment; second, to encourage economic growth through the creation of new plant and equipment even during this period of movement toward attainment; and third, to assure that states should have increased flexibility in organizing their own antipollution strategies.

These were the three central animating conceptions.

Now Part D is comprised of a complex of provisions.

The centerpiece is the obligation on the state to create new state implementation plans.

These are the things called SIPs> ["], and these must require annual incremental reductions in emissions which constitute reasonable further progress towards attainment.

The statute also requires the SIP to impose what is called "reasonably available control technology" on all existing sources.

These requirements have nothing to do with a bubble.

These are the principal engines that are supposed to drive the state toward attainment.

In addition, as one element of the scheme, Part D creates the new source performance, sometimes called NSR... sorry, new source review, NSR program.

Now this imposes stringent conditions before a permit may be issued to construct new sources of pollution.

These conditions are very severe.

For instance, one is a requirement that so-called state of the art, and therefore very expensive, control technology be installed on all new sources.