General Motors Corporation v. United States, No. 89-369

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACKMUN
Citation496 U.S. 530,110 L.Ed.2d 480,110 S.Ct. 2528
Docket NumberNo. 89-369
Decision Date14 June 1990
PartiesGENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES

496 U.S. 530
110 S.Ct. 2528
110 L.Ed.2d 480
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Petitioner

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 89-369.
Argued March 21, 1990.
Decided June 14, 1990.
Syllabus

The Clean Air Act was amended in 1970 to deal with a perceived national air-pollution emergency. The amendments required that the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgate national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) within 30 days and that each State thereafter submit a state implementation plan (SIP) within nine months. Section 110(a)(2) of the Act required the Administrator to approve a SIP within four months of its submission if the SIP met various substantive requirements. Section 110(a)(3) authorizes a State to propose a SIP revision and requires the Administrator to approve that revision if he determines, among other things, that it "meets the requirements of [§ 110(a)(2) ]." In 1980, EPA approved Massachusetts' proposed SIP governing certain emissions from automobile-painting operations. The SIP permitted petitioner General Motors Corporation (GMC)—whose automobile plant's painting operation is a source of ozone—to meet emissions limits in stages, but required full compliance by December 31, 1985. In June 1985, GMC sought an extension of that deadline until summer 1987. Massachusetts approved the revision and submitted it to EPA on the day before the existing SIP's deadline, but EPA did not reject it until September 1988. In the meantime, EPA sent GMC a notice of violation of the existing SIP, and the Government filed an enforcement action in the District Court. In May 1988, the District Court entered summary judgment for GMC, holding that § 110(a)(3) imposed a 4-month time limit on EPA review of a SIP revision, and that EPA was therefore barred from enforcing the existing SIP from the end of the 4-month period until it finally acted on the revision. Although agreeing that the Act imposed a 4-month deadline, the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the failure to meet that deadline did not preclude EPA from enforcing the existing SIP.

Held:

1. EPA is not required to act on a proposed SIP revision within four months. Since § 110(a)(2)'s 4-month requirement was enacted as one of a series of deadlines designed to assure quick implementation of pollution-control requirements, that section refers only to the action required on the original SIP and not to a revision. Moreover, in the absence of an express requirement that the Administrator process a proposed revision within four months, this Court is not free to read such a

Page 531

limitation into § 110(a)(3). That section incorporates only the substantive, but not the procedural, requirements of § 110(a)(2). Nor does § 110(g)—which authorizes a State Governor, in certain circumstances, temporarily to suspend a SIP for which the State has submitted a proposed revision when the Administrator has not taken action "within the required four month period"—impose a 4-month limitation on EPA. That section does not require the Administrator to do anything, and its incorporation of the mistaken presupposition that some "four month period" is "required" does not impose a general requirement on EPA. Pp. 536-539.

2. Although subject to the Administrative Procedure Act's requirement that agencies conclude matters "within a reasonable time," EPA is not barred from bringing suit to enforce an existing SIP if it unreasonably delays action on a proposed revision. This Court will not infer an enforcement bar in the absence of a specific provision in the Clean Air Act suggesting that Congress intended to create one. In fact, that Act plainly states that EPA may bring an enforcement action whenever a person is in violation of any "applicable implementation plan" requirement, § 113(b)(2), and there is little doubt that the existing SIP remains the "applicable implementation plan" even after the State has submitted a proposed revision. See, e.g., Train v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 421 U.S. 60, 92, 95 S.Ct. 1470, 1488, 43 L.Ed.2d 731. It is significant that Congress explicitly enacted an enforcement bar elsewhere in the Act, see § 113(d)(10), but failed to do so in the section at issue, and that it provided other, less drastic, remedies when EPA delays action on a SIP revision, see §§ 304(a)(2), 113(b). Pp. 539-542.

876 F.2d 1060 (C.A.1 1989), affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Theodore L. Garrett, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Page 532

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case concerns a Clean Air Act enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against petitioner General Motors Corporation (GMC). We are asked to decide whether the 4-month time limit on EPA review of an original state implementation plan (SIP) also applies to its review of a SIP revision, and whether, if EPA fails to complete its review of a SIP revision in a timely manner, EPA is prevented from enforcing an existing SIP.

I

What is known as the Clean Air Act, 77 Stat. 392, became law on December 17, 1963. Twenty years ago, Congress enacted the Clean Air Amendments of 1970, 84 Stat. 1676, a comprehensive national program that made the States and the Federal Government partners in the struggle against air pollution. The threats to human health were regarded as urgent, and the 1970 Amendments were designed to result in the expeditious establishment of programs to deal with the problem. The amendments specified a detailed timetable for

Page 533

federal and state action to accomplish this objective. They required the EPA Administrator, within 30 days of the passage of the amendments, to promulgate national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). § 109(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 7409(a)(1) (1982 ed.). Within nine months thereafter, each State was to submit a SIP to implement, maintain, and enforce the NAAQS. § 110(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 7410(a)(1) (1982 ed.). As the final step in this start-up phase of the program, EPA was to act on a proposed SIP within four months: "The Administrator shall, within four months after the date required for submission of a plan under paragraph (1), approve or disapprove such plan or any portion thereof." § 110(a)(2), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 7410(a)(2) (1982 ed.). The Administrator was directed to approve the SIP if he determined that it was adopted after reasonable notice and hearing and that it met various substantive requirements, including emissions limitations, devices for monitoring air-quality data, and enforcement mechanisms.

The integrated timetable established by the 1970 amendments reflected the urgency of establishing air-pollution controls. But the amendments also recognized that local needs and control strategies could evolve over time and that SIP's would have to change as well. The States therefore were authorized to propose SIP revisions, and the EPA Administrator was directed to approve any such proposed revision "if he determines that it meets the requirements of paragraph (2) and has been adopted by the State after reasonable notice and public hearings." § 110(a)(3), 42 U.S.C. § 7410(a)(3)(A) (1982 ed.).

The 1970 amendments also specified certain enforcement mechanisms. The Act empowered EPA to order compliance with an applicable implementation plan, § 113(a), 42 U.S.C. § 7413(a) (1982 ed.), and to seek injunctive relief against a source violating the plan or an EPA order, § 113(b), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 7413(b) (1982 ed.). In addition, Congress prescribed criminal penalties for knowing violations of

Page 534

plans and orders, § 113(c), 42 U.S.C. § 7413(c) (1982 ed.), and authorized citizen suits for injunctions against violators, in the absence of Government enforcement, § 304, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 7604 (1982 ed.).

Congress further amended the Clean Air Act by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977. 91 Stat. 685. It added to the Act the concept of a "nonattainment area"—an area where air quality falls short of the NAAQS. § 172(2), 42 U.S.C. § 7501(2) (1982 ed.). The deadline for attainment of the primary NAAQS in a nonattainment area was December 31, 1982. § 172(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 7502(a)(1) (1982 ed.). Further extensions were permitted for "photochemical oxidants" (ozone) or carbon monoxide, but only if the State demonstrated that attainment was not possible before 1983 "despite the implementation of all reasonably available measures" and that attainment would be achieved "as expeditiously as practicable, but not later than December 31, 1987." § 172(a)(2), 42 U.S.C. § 7502(a)(2) (1982 ed.).

II
A.

The entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a nonattainment area for NAAQS with respect to ozone. See 40 CFR § 81.322, p. 126 (1989). Petitioner GMC owns and operates an automobile assembly plant in Framingham, Mass. The plant's painting operation is a source of volatile organic compounds that contribute to ozone. In 1980, EPA approved Massachusetts' proposed nonattainment area SIP governing volatile organic compound emissions from automobile-painting operations. The SIP permitted GMC to meet emissions limits in stages, but required full compliance by December 31, 1985. In 1981, EPA published a policy statement suggesting that new technology in automobile-painting operations might justify deferral of industry compliance until 1986 or 1987. 46 Fed.Reg. 51386. Three years later, in November 1984, GMC sought an extension from the

Page 535

December 31, 1985, compliance date imposed by the existing SIP, not for the new technology, but rather for additional time to install emission controls on its existing lines. App. 38. In June 1985, GMC proposed converting to the new technology and requested a summer 1987...

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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2008
    ...program that made the States and the Federal Government partners in the struggle against air pollution." GM Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 532, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 110 L.Ed.2d 480 (1990). The 1970 Amendments indicate, however, that although "federal financial assistance and leadership is......
  • Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter v. Cedar Point Oil Co. Inc., Nos. 94-20461
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 11, 1996
    ...an analogous administrative default in the context of an environmental enforcement action. General Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 110 L.Ed.2d 480 (1990). General Motors involved a state implementation plan ("SIP") that regulated emissions from automobile painti......
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    • August 26, 2003
    ...30,594 (May 7, 2002) (EPA Ex. 128). The EPA enforces the SIP's rule until the SIP is revised. General Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 540, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 110 L.Ed.2d 480 (1990). However, even for projects undertaken after the dates in which the WEPCO Rule was adopted, Duke Ene......
  • Hardesty v. Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Mgmt. Dist., No. C065784.
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    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 27, 2011
    ...“the States and the Federal Government partners in the struggle against air pollution.” ( General Motors Corp. v. United States (1990) 496 U.S. 530, 532, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 2530, 110 L.Ed.2d 480, 485.) Under title I of the CAA, the EPA is responsible for establishing primary and secondary nati......
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94 cases
  • CleanCOALition v. TXU POWER, No. 07-50685.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2008
    ...program that made the States and the Federal Government partners in the struggle against air pollution." GM Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 532, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 110 L.Ed.2d 480 (1990). The 1970 Amendments indicate, however, that although "federal financial assistance and leadership is......
  • Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter v. Cedar Point Oil Co. Inc., Nos. 94-20461
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • January 11, 1996
    ...an analogous administrative default in the context of an environmental enforcement action. General Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 110 L.Ed.2d 480 (1990). General Motors involved a state implementation plan ("SIP") that regulated emissions from automobile painti......
  • U.S. v. Duke Energy Corporation, No. CIV. 1:00CV01262.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • August 26, 2003
    ...30,594 (May 7, 2002) (EPA Ex. 128). The EPA enforces the SIP's rule until the SIP is revised. General Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 540, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 110 L.Ed.2d 480 (1990). However, even for projects undertaken after the dates in which the WEPCO Rule was adopted, Duke Ene......
  • Hardesty v. Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Mgmt. Dist., No. C065784.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 27, 2011
    ...“the States and the Federal Government partners in the struggle against air pollution.” ( General Motors Corp. v. United States (1990) 496 U.S. 530, 532, 110 S.Ct. 2528, 2530, 110 L.Ed.2d 480, 485.) Under title I of the CAA, the EPA is responsible for establishing primary and secondary nati......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • The State Implementation Plan Process
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    • Air pollution control and climate change mitigation law
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    ...or failed to revise a plan when required to do so, the Administrator 7. Id . §7413, CAA §113. 8. General Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 20 ELR 20959 (1990). See also David Currie, Relaxation of Implementation Plans Under the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments , 78 Mich. L. Rev. 155......
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    ...695 (D.C. Cir. 1997). 162. Am. Petroleum Inst. v. EPA, 198 F.3d 275, 279 (D.C. Cir. 1999). See also Gen. Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530, 538-39 (1990); Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16, 23 (1983). ing and Collateral Relief Seeking the Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emission......

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