National Resource Council

Critical Essay: Chevron USA v. National Resources Defense Council Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council was a case in which the United Supreme Court set forth the legal test for determining whether to grant deference to a government agency’s interpretation of a statute which it administers. Chevron is the Court’s clearest articulation of the doctrine of “administrative deference”.

The Court itself has used the phrase “Chevron deference” in more recent cases. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 impose certain requirements on States that have not achieved the national air quality standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency in earlier legislation.

The Amendments required the “nonattainment” states to establish a permit program regulating “new or modified major stationary sources” of air pollution, pursuant to stringent conditions. The EPA decision to allow states to treat all pollution-emitting devices within the same industry grouping as though within a single “bubble” was challenged.

Policy arguments are more properly addressed to legislators or administrators not to judges. In these cases, the administrator’s interpretation represents a reasonable accommodation of manifesty competing and is entitled to deference: the regulatory scheme is technical and complex, the agency considered that matter in a detailed and reasonable fashion, and the decision involves reconciling conflicting policies.

The EPA promulgated a regulation permitting states to adopt a plan-wide definition of the term “stationary source”. This definition allowed existing plant that contained several pollution-emitting devices to install or modify one piece of equipment without a permit in the overall plant emissions were not increased by the alteration- a bubble concept.

The National Resource Defense Council Inc. (Respondents) petitioned for the review in the Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia Circuit, and the Court of Appeals set aside the regulation. The Amendments were lengthy, detailed and complex. They did not disturb the prior definition of “stationary source” but did add a new definition for “major stationary source”. In this case, the Court looked to the Clean Air Act and found it ambiguous as to how to define “source”. Also, the Agency’s interpretation wasn’t the only possible interpretation, but it was certain a reasonable interpretation. Therefore the Court would defer the Agency’s decision.

The court felt that if Congress didn’t want the Agency to make their interpretation, they would have been clearer when writing the Statute. The Court found that, “the power of an Administrative Agency to administer a congressionally created program necessarily requires the formulation of policy and the making of rules to fill any gap left, implicitly or explicitly, by Congress.” Basically this case said that the courts need to defer to Administrative Agencies when interpreting regulations.

The reasoning is that the Agency understands the technical specifics and possible implications much better than the courts ever could, so their interpretation is going to be more informed.

Another reason to defer to the Agency is that in many cases, Congress simply didn’t think about the specific issue when the bill was written. Having the court make a decision on what Congress meant, when they hadn’t ever focused on the issue is a legal fiction. What right does a court have to override an Agency based on what Congress meant; pretty likely that Congress never meant anything at all? This case basically said that if Congress didn’t explicitly decide an issue by Statute, they implicitly meant that the Agency should decide it for them.

The basic legal error of the Court of Appeals was to adopt a static judicial definition of the term “stationary source” when it had decided that Congress itself had not commanded that definition. Respondents do not defend the legal reasoning of the Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, since this Court reviews judgments, not opinions, we must determine whether the Court of Appeals' legal error resulted in an erroneous judgment on the validity of the regulations. In light of these well-settled principles it is clear that the Court of Appeals misconceived the nature of its role in reviewing the regulations at issue.

Once it determined, after its own examination of the legislation, that Congress did not actually have an intent regarding the applicability of the bubble concept to the permit program, the question before it was not whether in its view the concept is “inappropriate” in the general context of a program designed to improve air quality, but whether the Administrator's view that it is appropriate in the context of this particular program is a reasonable one.

Based on the examination of the legislation and its history which follows, we agree with the Court of Appeals that Congress did not have a specific intention on the applicability of the bubble concept in these cases, and conclude that the EPA's use of that concept here is a reasonable policy choice for the agency to make.

References 1. 467 U.S. 837 (Text of the opinion from Findlaw) 2. United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 226 (2001). 3. 467 U.S. at 840. 4. Thomas W. Merrill, Judicial Deference to Executive Precedent, 101 Yale L.J. 969, 982-985 (1992) 5. Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212 (2002) United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218 (2001);Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (1999). 6. See, for example, Cass R. Sunstein, "Chevron Step Zero," 92 Va. L. Rev. 187 (2006). 7. Cf. Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (1999) (no Chevron deference to opinion letter sent by NLRB about interpretation of overtime laws) 8. See Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212 (2002) (stating explicitly that Skidmore still applies to agency actions that do not receive Chevron deference) External links

* Works related to Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. at Wikisource * Text of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984) is available from: ·Findlaw · Justia *