Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

RESPONDENT: American Trucking Associations, Inc.
LOCATION: Environmental Protection Agency

DOCKET NO.: 99-1257
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 531 US 457 (2001)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 2000
DECIDED: Feb 27, 2001

Edward W. Warren - Argued the cause for the respondents, on behalf of the Respondents
Judith L. French - Columbus, Ohio, argued the case for the respondents
Seth P. Waxman - on behalf of the Petitioners, on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Section 109(a) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to promulgate national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for each air pollutant for which "air quality criteria" have been issued under section 108. In 1997, Carol Browner, the Administrator of the EPA, revised the ozone and particulate matter NAAQS. Afterwards, her revised NAAQS were challenged in court. The District of Columbia Circuit found that section 109(b)(1), which instructs the EPA to set standards, delegated legislative power to the Administrator in contravention of the Federal Constitution because the court found that the EPA had interpreted the statute to provide no "intelligible principle" to guide the agency's exercise of authority. The court remanded the NAAQS to the EPA. The courts also held to its rule that the EPA could not consider implementation costs in setting the NAAQS. Additionally, the court rejected the EPA's position that the implementation provisions for ozone found in Part D, Subpart 2, of Title I of the CAA, were so tied to the existing ozone standard that the EPA lacked the power to revise the standard.


Does section 109(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act unconstitutionally delegate legislative power to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency? May the Administrator of the EPA consider the costs of implementation in setting national ambient air quality standards under section 109(b)(1)? Does the Court of Appeals have the jurisdiction to review the EPA's interpretation of Part D of Title I of the CAA, with respect to implementing the revised ozone NAAQS?

Media for Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 2000 in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 27, 2001 in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

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

Antonin Scalia:

The first of these was actually two consolidated cases, No. 99-1257, Whitman versus American Trucking Associations, and No. 99-1426, American Trucking Associations versus Whitman.

These cases come to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Section 109 of the Clean Air Act requires petitioner, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to promulgate and periodically to revise as necessary, National Ambient Air Quality Standards for each pollutant for which air quality criteria have been issued under Section 108 of the Act.

These cases arose when in 1997, petitioner revised the ozone and particulate matter standards, and respondents in No. 99-1257 challenged the revised standards on several grounds.

The DC Circuit accepted some of the challenges and rejected others.

It held that Section 109(b)(1) as interpreted by the administrator delegated legislative power to the administrator in contravention of the Federal Constitution.

It held further that the EPA may not consider the costs of implementing an air quality standard when deciding the level at which to set the standard, and finally the court held that, although certain implementation provisions for the ozone standards contained in subpart 2 of the Clean Air Acts part regarding nonattainment areas did not prevent the EPA from revising the ozone standard.

Nonetheless those provisions rather than more general provisions contained in subpart 1 of that part, constrained the implementation of the new ozone standards.

The court rejected the argument that it lacked jurisdiction to reach the implementation question because there had been no final implementation action.

We affirm in part and reverse in part.

First, we hold that Section 109(b) does not permit the Administrator to consider implementation costs in setting air quality standards.

Section 109(b)(1) instructs the EPA to set air quality standards “the attainment and maintenance of which are requisite to protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety.”

Implementation costs are not expressly included in that equation and we will not infer a provision for costs, from ambiguous terms such as requisite and adequate margin.

Section 109(b)(1) is the engine that drives nearly all of Title I of the CAA and Congress does not alter a regulatory scheme’s fundamental details in vague terms or ancillary provisions.

Moreover, the CAA often expressly grants the EPA authority to consider implementation costs and such costs are both so indirectly related to the public health and so full of potential for cancelling the conclusions drawn from direct health effects that they would have been expressly mentioned in Section 109, had Congress meant them to be considered.

Other CAA provisions, which do require cost data to be generated or considered, have no bearing upon whether costs are to be taken account of in setting the standards.

So, because the text of 109(b)(1) in its context is clear, we have no cause to apply the canon of construing taxes to avoid serious constitutional problems.

Second, if you have gotten all of that we hold that Section 109(b)(1) does not delegate legislative power to the EPA.

When Congress confers decision making authority upon agencies it must lay down our cases say an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to act is directed to confirm.

This is peculiarly a task for Congress.

An agency cannot cure an unlawful delegation of legislative power by adopting in its discretion a limiting construction of the statute.

Section 109(b)(1) requires the administrator to set air quality standards at a level that is neither greater nor less than that which is required to protect the public health from the adverse effects of the pollutant in the ambient air.

The limits that 109(b)(1) thus imposes on the EPA’s discretion are strikingly similar to the limits we approved in our recent decision in Touby v United States and the scope of discretion that 109(b)(1) allows is well within the outer limits of our nondelegation precedents.

Contrary to respondent’s argument, statutes need not provide a determinate criterion for saying, how much of a regulated harm is too much to avoid delegating legislative power.

Third, we find that the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction under Section 307 of the Clean Air Act to consider the implementation issue involving subparts 1 and 2.

The implementation policy constitutes final agency action under Section 307 because it marked the consummation of the EPA’s decision making process, and the policy is right for review because the question it presents is purely one of statutory interpretation that would not benefit from further factual development.

Review will not interfere with further administrative development and the hardship on respondent States in developing state implementation plans satisfies the CAA’s special judicial review provision permitting pre enforcement review.

Beyond all this, we find that the implementation issue was fairly included within the challenges to the final ozone rule that were before the Court of Appeals and all parties agreed that that rule is final agency action ripe for review.

Finally, we hold that the EPA’s implementation policy is unlawful.