Engine Manufacturers' Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District

PETITIONER: Engine Manufacturers Association and Western States Petroleum Association
RESPONDENT: South Coast Air Quality Management District, et al.
LOCATION: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

DOCKET NO.: 02-1343
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 541 US 246 (2004)
GRANTED: Jun 09, 2003
ARGUED: Jan 14, 2004
DECIDED: Apr 28, 2004

Carter G. Phillips - argued the cause for Petitioners
Seth P. Waxman - argued the cause for Respondents
Theodore B. Olson - argued the cause for Petitioners, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

The Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) sued the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) - established under the California Health and Safety Code - in federal district court. The EMA alleged that the Clean Air Act (CAA) preempted SCAQMD's "fleet rules" - rules that required new commercial vehicles to meet specific emissions standards - and that the rules were therefore illegal. The EMA pointed to section 209 of the act, which prohibits states from enforcing "any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles." Reasoning that the regulations affected the standards at which engines could be sold, not the standards to which they must be manufactured, and finding that Congress's purpose was to protect manufactures from "having to build engines in compliance with a multiplicity of standards," the district court ruled that the CAA did not preempt California's fleet rules. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.


Does the Clean Air Act preempt local government regulations prohibiting the purchase of new motor vehicles with specified emission characteristics?

Media for Engine Manufacturers' Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 2004 in Engine Manufacturers' Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 28, 2004 in Engine Manufacturers' Association v. South Coast Air Quality Management District

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court on two cases will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

First case I have to announce is No. 02-1343 Engine Manufacturer’s Association versus South Coast Air Quality Management District.

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

Respondent South Coast Air Quality Management District, the political subdivision of California responsible for air pollution control in the Los Angeles’ metropolitan area, enacted six Fleet Rules prohibiting the purchase or lease by various public and private fleet operators of vehicles that do not comply with specified emission related requirements.

These rules generally require the purchase or lease of alternative-fuel vehicle so-called or vehicles that need certain emission specifications established by the California Air Resources Board.

All six rules apply to public operators.

Three apply to private operators as well.

The petitioner, Engine Manufacturer’s Association sued the District and its officials claiming the Fleet Rules were preempted by Section 209(a) of the Federal Clean Air Act which prohibits the adaption or intended enforcement of any state or local “standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines.”

In upholding the rules, the District Court found that Section 209(a) did not preempt them because the rules regulated only the purchase of vehicles that are otherwise certified for sale in California.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

We granted certiorari, and now vacate and remand.

The first sentence of Section 209(a) provides that “no state or political subdivision thereof shall adapt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines."

The lower court’s determination, that this express preemption provision did not require invalidation of the Fleet Rules hinged upon their interpretation of the word "standard" to include only regulations that compel manufacturers to meet specific emission limits.

Sales restrictions, they recognized, do this, but purchase restrictions, they said, do not.

The fundamental difficulty with this analysis is that it confuses standards with the means of enforcing standards.

Standards in Section 209(a) are criteria that relate to the emission characteristics of a vehicle or engine.

To meet them, the vehicle or engine must emit no more than a certain amount of a given pollutant, must be equipped with a certain type of pollution control device, or must have some other design feature related to emissions.

Restrictions on the manufacture, purchase, or sale of non-compliant vehicles are not themselves standards which target vehicles and engines but rather methods of standard enforcement which target manufacturers, sellers, and purchasers.

The Clean Air Act itself contains provisions that make use of both purchase and sales restrictions to enforce standards relating to the control of emissions.

Both types of restriction can constitute attempts to enforce standards preempted by 209(a).

Moreover, it would make no sense to treat sale and purchase restrictions differently for preemption purposes, as the District Court would have, since the manufacturer’s right to sell federally approved vehicles is meaningless in the absence of a purchaser’s right to buy them.

For these and other reasons given in opinion today filed with the Clerk of the Court, we hold that the South Coast District’ Fleet Rules do not escape preemption under 209(a) of the Clean Air Act solely because they address the purchase of vehicle rather than their manufacture or sale.

Our interpretation of 209(a) renders it likely that at least certain aspects of the Fleet Rules are preempted.

We have not addressed however a number of issues that were neither passed on below nor presented in the petition for certiorari but which may bear on the ultimate disposition of petitioner’s suit.

Therefore, we remand the case for the lower courts to address these issues in light of the principles set forth in our opinion.

Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion.