Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 03-11-2015
  • Case #: 13-70544
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Court Judge Silverman for the Court; Senior Circuit Judge Schroeder; Senior District Court Judge Garbis
  • Full Text Opinion

Pursuant to section 172(e) of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), a state may implement tighter air quality controls which are “not less stringent than” the requirements imposed by section 185 of the CAA.

Natural Resources Defense Council and Communities for a Better Environment (“NRDC”) appealed from a denial for review of an order approving a revision to the Clean Air Act (“CAA”). The revision, South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Rule 317 (“Rule 317”), created “not less stringent” controls, which tightened the air quality standard in the applicable district. The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) approved Rule 317 in 2013. NRDC argued that the EPA had no authority to approve Rule 317 because it is an alternative to section 172(e) of the CAA, which unambiguously allows the EPA to approve of alternate pollution controls only when such controls are “relaxed.” The court must use the Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Counsil framework when reviewing an agency’s interpretation of a statute. First, the court must determine if “Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue.” If so, then the court must apply the statute as Congress clearly intended. If not, then the court must next determine if the agency’s interpretation is “based on a permissible construction of the statute.” Using this framework on appeal, the Ninth Circuit found that in regards to section 172(e), Congress did not directly speak to the precise question at issue because the statute does not provide guidelines in any context except for when air quality controls are relaxed. Therefore, the panel applied the second step of Chevron. The panel found that the EPA gave a reasonable interpretation to the statute because it paralleled a previous interpretation of another part of the same sentence within section 172(e). Furthermore, it was clear that Congress intentionally left a gap in the statute that must be filled by the agency. The panel therefore denied the petition because the EPA reasonably interpreted Section 172(e). DENIED.

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