Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute

PETITIONER: Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO
RESPONDENT: American Petroleum Institute
LOCATION: U.S. Department of Labor

DOCKET NO.: 78-911
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 448 US 607 (1980)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1979
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1980

ADVOCATES:
Charles F. Lettow - Argued the cause for the respondents, Rubber Manufacturers Association, Inc., in both cases
Edward W. Warren - Argued the cause for the respondent, American Petroleum Institute, in both cases
George H. Cohen - Argued the cause for Industrial Union Dept
William H. Alsup - for petitioner in No. 78-1036
William Alsup - Argued the cause for the petitioner, Marshall, in 78-1036

Facts of the case

Acting under authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Secretary of Labor, after having demonstrated a link between exposure to benzene and leukemia, set a standard reducing the airborne concentrations of benzene to which workers could be exposed. The standard reduced the allowable amount from 10 parts per million (ppm) to one ppm. This case was decided together with Marshall v. American Petroleum Institute.

Question

Did the Secretary exceed his authority to set standards?

Media for Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1979 (Part 2) in Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1979 (Part 1) in Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Industrial Union against the American Petroleum Institute, and the related case.

Mr. Alsup, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

William H. Alsup:

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

The issue in this case is whether the Secretary of Labor's occupational standard for benzene satisfies the statutory requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that it did not satisfy those requirements, and the case is here on the petition of the Secretary of Labor and the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.

William H. Rehnquist:

Could you describe those statutory requirements?

William H. Alsup:

The specific statutory requirements at issue are several.

The Fifth Circuit held principally that the statutory requirement that was violated was a requirement that an occupational health and safety standard be, quote, "reasonably necessary or appropriate to achieving healthful and safe working places.

"The Court held that the standard which is not reasonably necessary, if it does not bear a reasonable relationship -- the benefits of the standard bear no reasonable relationship to the clause of the standard, and that, in addition, it does not satisfy that clause if they are not quantifiable benefits.

William H. Rehnquist:

What's the government's position on the meaning of the statutory language?

William H. Alsup:

Well, with respect to that particular clause, Mr. Justice Rehnquist, we believe that that is an enabling clause that appears in many statutes that confer rule-making authority on agencies.

William H. Rehnquist:

What's the government's position as to the meaning of the words "if feasible"?

William H. Alsup:

Achievable.

William H. Rehnquist:

In what sense?

William H. Alsup:

Economically achievable, technologically achievable.

William H. Rehnquist:

Did Congress give any more guidance to the Secretary than that?

William H. Alsup:

Well, in the first sentence of Section 6(b)(5), which we believe is the heart of the Act, Congress gave a very definite guidance to the Secretary of Labor.

That sentence says that in setting health standards for toxic substances, the Secretary shall set the standard which most adequately assures, to the extent feasible, based on the best available evidence, that no employee shall suffer material impairment of health or functional capacity, even if he is supposed to the hazard dealt with for his entire working life.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, what does the word "if feasible" mean in there?

William H. Alsup:

Well, we think that it means achievable, and the legislative history, we believe, supports our interpretation.

William H. Rehnquist:

Achievable in what sense?

William H. Alsup:

Technologically achievable means either that the technology is available to implement the engineering controls necessary to meet permissible exposure levels, or that as -- although this is not involved in this case, as the Circuits have held -- that the technology, even though it's not available at this time, it's reasonable to conclude that it is, as one of the Circuits said, looming on the horizon.

And there it is a technology enforcing statute in that sense.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, doesn't that almost take us back to the Schacter case in the Thirties, where Congress simply turns over to the agency the job of making legislation?

William H. Alsup:

Absolutely not.

Here there is a very clear directive that says that if Congress in fact meant technologically feasible, achievable, and economically achievable, it's a clear directive, a mandatory directive to the Secretary of Labor to set that standard.

This is not a blank check for the Secretary of Labor to do anything he wants.

Congress has set a -- weighted its own balance of health benefits versus health costs and has struck that balance and described it in the first sentence of Section 6(b)(5), and has directed the Secretary of Labor to follow that standard in every health standard that's issued for toxic substances.

William H. Rehnquist:

If feasible.

William H. Alsup:

If feasible.