City of Chicago v. Environmental Defense Fund

PETITIONER:City Of Chicago et al.
RESPONDENT:Environmental Defense Fund et al.
LOCATION:City of Tigard

DOCKET NO.: 92-1639
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 511 US 328 (1994)
ARGUED: Jan 19, 1994
DECIDED: May 02, 1994

Jeffrey P. Minear – on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
Lawrence Rosenthal – on behalf of the Petitioners
Richard J. Lazarus – on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for City of Chicago v. Environmental Defense Fund

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 19, 1994 in City of Chicago v. Environmental Defense Fund

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 02, 1994 in City of Chicago v. Environmental Defense Fund

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in No. 92-1639, City of Chicago versus Environmental Defense Fund will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on certiorari from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Petitioners, defendants in the District Court, are the City of Chicago and its Mayor.

I shall refer to both of them as the City.

Since 1971, the City has operated a municipal incinerator, the Northwest Waste-to-Energy Facility that recovers energy from the burning of solid waste.

The City has disposed of the ash from this facility 110,000-140,000 tons per year at landfills that are not licensed to accept hazardous wastes.

The respondent, Environmental Defense Fund, filed a complaint against the City alleging that the facility’s ash residue is toxic and that the City was therefore violating what the cognoscenti known as RCRA, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, by disposing of the ash in ordinary landfills.

District Court granted summary judgment for the City on the ground that Section 3001(i) of the Solid Waste Disposal Act, a provision within RCRA, excluded the ash from the RCRA’s Subtitle C requirements addressing hazardous wastes.

Section 3001(i) which is at issue in this case provides that “a resource recovery facility recovering energy from the mass burning of municipal solid waste shall not be deemed to be treating, storing, disposing of, or otherwise managing hazardous wastes for the purposes of regulation under this subchapter if such facility receives and burns only household waste and non-hazardous industrial waste.”

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the District Court’s decision that this did not violate 3001(i) and reversed.

While certiorari was pending in this Court, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a memorandum stating that under its view of 3001(i) the ash is indeed exempt from Subtitle C regulation contrary, of course, to what the Court of Appeals had said.

On remand, following this Court’s vacation of the judgment, the Court of Appeals reinstated its previous opinion holding that because the statute’s plain language is dispositive, the EPA memorandum did not affect its analysis.

We granted certiorari and we now affirm.

Section 3001(i) does not exempt the ash generated by petitioner’s facility from Subtitle C regulation as hazardous waste.

A brief 3001(i) EPA regulation provided a so-called waste stream exemption covering household waste from generation through treatment to final disposal of residues.

That was a regulation.

But petitioner’s facility would not have come within that exemption because it burned, as I described earlier, not only household waste but non-hazardous industrial waste.

Assuming that the ash generated by this facility was toxic, the facility would have been considered a Subtitle C hazardous waste generator, although not, a more astringently regulated Subtitle C hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facility since all the waste it took in was non-hazardous.

Section 3001(i), we hold, cannot be interpreted as extending the preexisting waste stream exemption to the product of a combined household non-hazardous industrial treatment facility such as petitioner’s.

Although the Section is entitled clarification of household waste exclusion, its plain language which says that a resource recovery facility shall not be deemed to be treating, storing, disposing of, or otherwise managing hazardous wastes.

It establishes that its exemption is limited to the facility itself and does not extend to the ash that the facility generates.

The statutory text’s prominent omission of any reference to generation, and not the single reference to generation in the legislative history, is the authoritative expression of the law.

The enacted text requires rejection of the government’s plea for deference to EPA’s interpretation which goes beyond the scope of whatever ambiguity 3001(i) contains.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion which is joined buy Justice O’Connor.