Fri v. Sierra Club

LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 72-804
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 412 US 541 (1973)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1973
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1973

Bruce J. Terris - for respondents
Lawrence G. Wallace - argued the cause for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Fri v. Sierra Club

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1973 in Fri v. Sierra Club

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in 72-804, Ruckelshaus against the Sierra Club.

Mr. Wallace you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case arises under the Federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970.

For the convenience of the Court, I’ve asked the clerk to distribute to each member of the Court a pamphlet containing the full provisions of the Clean Air Act as amended in through the 1970 Amendments, plus two excerpts from the Federal Register reproducing completely the parts of the administrator’s regulations that are at issue in this case, so that all of these provisions can be seen in full context.

The 1970 amendments greatly strengthened the Act in a number of ways and among other things, the amendments for the first time provided for federally prescribed national ambient air quality standards and for federal standards before emissions from new stationary sources of pollutants.

The ambient air quality standards apply to the presence of pollutants in the overall air in a community or region covered by the standards and the emission standards also referred to as performance standards in the act apply to the emissions of pollutants from a single point source.

Under the 1970 amendments, each state is required to submit a plan for implementing the national ambient air quality standards and the question in this case is whether those plans also have to prevent deterioration of existing air quality in any portion of any state.

The administrator has taken the position of the act does not require or permit him to require the States to include such a non-deterioration provision in their plans although it preserves the right of the States to do so if they wish.

Respondents brought this suit for a declaratory judgment to the contrary of the administrator’s position and to direct the administrator to disapprove the state plans that have been submitted in so far as they do not prevent significant deterioration of existing air quality in any part of any state.

The District Court upheld the claim of the respondents on the basis of the Act’s statement of purposes and on the basis of the Court’s view of the ex-legislative history and what the Court regarded as inconsistency in the administrator’s regulations.

It issued a preliminary injunction, which the parties agreed to treat as a final order for purposes of appeal and on appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed on the basis of the District Court’s opinion.

This Court granted the Government’s petition for certiorari and the Government’s application for a stay pending its decision.

Potter Stewart:

Mr. Wallace, what you just said is something that’s I’ve been wondering about in this case.

All that was issued was a preliminary injunction by the District Court.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

The parties agreed.

Potter Stewart:

And that parties agreed to consider it something else for a limited purpose i.e. for the purposes of appeal.

But all of the District Court that ever issued was a preliminary injunction, am I --?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

That is correct, Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

And that is all that ever has happen in this case.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

The parties agreed that it involved the controlling issue of law that settled the rights between the parties.

Potter Stewart:

For purposes that appear to the Court of Appeals, then really isn’t the only – isn’t the frame of the issues here whether or not the Court was right in issuing a preliminary injunction not whether or not it was right or wrong on the merits of the case.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

I think not Your Honor because what this Court is reviewing is the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Potter Stewart:

Which in our opinions simply affirm the preliminary injunction of the District Court?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

On the basis of the District’s Court’s opinion as to the legal issues but on the basis of the submission of parties that this was the controlling legal issue that would govern the practice of the administrator and whether the administrator could approve or disapprove the state plans that are pending before it.

Potter Stewart:

But the preliminary injunction is issued generally as we all know on matters and questions of probabilities and possibilities, threats of harm and how immediate and irreparable they are and what not without getting to a definitive decision of underlying merits and that’s all what was done here, isn’t it?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

No, the rationale of the District Court’s memorandum opinion is not based on probabilities at all.

It’s based on the controlling legal issues that interprets the statute and in effect invalidates the administrator’s regulations.

There is nothing in that opinion adopted by the Court of Appeals of it’s based on probabilities or preliminary concerns --

Potter Stewart:

Well, they say first -- first the plaintiffs made a strong showing that they are likely to prevail on the merits.