General Motors Corporation v. United States

PETITIONER: General Motors Corporation
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Residence of Clyde Osborne

DOCKET NO.: 89-369
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 496 US 530 (1990)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 14, 1990

Lawrence G. Wallace - on behalf of the Respondent
Theodore L. Garrett - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for General Motors Corporation v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1990 in General Motors Corporation v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first in No. 86-369, General Motors Corporation v. United States.

Mr. Garrett.

Theodore L. Garrett:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves central issues concerning the adoption and the enforcement of state air control regulations under the Clean Air Act.

The question presented is, in a case where a state has revised its regulations, whether EPA may bring a suit to enforce the original unrevised regulations and to collect penalties without first complying with its statutory duty to act to approve or disapprove the revision.

We request that the decision below be reversed because it allows EPA to veto state regulatory choices through an enforcement mechanism without following the procedures and requirements of the statute.

We submit that this procedure EPA is following creates a regulatory limbo which frustrates the efforts of states and companies to respond to changing conditions.

Now, I want to clarify at the outset that our point is not simply that EPA took too long in acting on the revision in question here.

Our point is a more fundamental one than that.

We submit that Congress established a very careful sequence in the statute, first, for the state promulgation of state implementation plans and revisions to those plans, secondly, for limited and timely EPA review of those plans and, only after that, for enforcement.

We submit that by skipping that second step, the limited and timely review, EPA has put the cart before the horse, if you will.

Now, in this case, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts gave General Motors an extension of time, from 1985 to 1987, 1987 being the attainment deadline in the Clean Air Act that's relevant here and, indeed, it was the deadline for all of Massachusetts, as granted by EPA.

The purpose of the extension was to allow General Motors to replace an older painting facility that it had in Framingham, Massachusetts and instead to build a new more modern facility with substantially lower emissions.

EPA had previously approved similar extensions of time through state plan revisions for other companies in 1984 and 1985, and the Agency did so pursuant to a policy that it had announced in 1981.

In this particular case, EPA waited while General Motors built its plant.

It completed the new facility at great expense in July of 1987, and then when the new facility was built and the old facility was shut down, EPA filed a lawsuit in August of 1987 to collect penalties for the period of time during which the company had operated the old paint shop.

It did so without taking any action... any final action on a revision.

Now, we submit that General Motors should have been entitled to comply with the Commonwealth's revision and should have not been penalized for doing so until EPA took action on the revision.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, Mr. Garrett, the statute, does it not, makes the terms of the original plan enforceable until a revision is approved, as I understand it.

Theodore L. Garrett:

Are you referring to Section 110(d) of the statute, Your Honor?

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Theodore L. Garrett:

Your Honor, it seems to us that the government's argument with respect to that section proves a little bit too much, and it's somewhat a mechanical and artificial reading of the statute.

And the reason we say that is because it does not deal with EPA's corresponding duty under the statute to comply with its obligations to review a plan in a timely way.

We submit that the Congress--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, of course, the SG takes the position that there is no four-month deadline requirement for action on proposed revisions.

And I suppose you would be first to acknowledge that the language of the statutory provisions could be interpreted as the Solicitor General suggests, as not requiring revisions to be approved within four months.

Theodore L. Garrett:

--We disagree on that point, Your Honor.

But there's a more fundamental point that I would like to emphasize.

I think that there can be no doubt under the statute, because it uses the word EPA has a duty to act on the plan and plan revisions.

And we're saying that EPA has breached that duty act.