Train v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc 8212 1742

Decision Date16 April 1975
Docket NumberNo. 73,73
PartiesRussell E. TRAIN, Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency, et al., Petitioners, v. NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL, INC., et al. —1742
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Under the Clean Air Amendments of 1970, which establish a program for controlling air pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set 'ambient air' quality standards which, in the EPA's judgment, are 'requisite to protect the public health,' § 109(b)(1) ('primary' standards), and 'requisite to protect the public welfare from any known or anticipated adverse effects associated with the presence of such air pollutant in the ambient air,' § 109(b)(2) ('secondary' standards). Each State after promulgation of these standards must submit an implementing and maintenance plan, which must be approved by the EPA, if, inter alia, it meets eight general conditions set forth in § 110(a)(2), the principal one of which is that the plan provide for the attainment of the national primary ambient air quality standards in the State 'as expeditiously as practicable' but no later than three years from the date of the plan' approval. § 110(a)(2)(A). The State's plan must include emission limitations, schedules, compliance timetables, and other measures insuring timely attainment and subsequent maintenance of the national standards. In order to develop the requisite plan within the statutory deadline, Georgia elected to follow an EPA-endorsed approach providing for immediately effective categorical emission limitations accompanied, however, by a variance procedure whereby particular sources could obtain individually tailored relief from the general requirements. Section 110(a)(3) provides that the EPA shall approve any 'revision' of an implementation plan that meets the § 110(a)(2) requirements applicable to an original plan, and the EPA, concluding that that provision permits a State to grant individual variances meeting § 110(a)(2) requirements from generally applicable emission standards, both before and after the attainment date, approved the Georgia plan. Respondents initiated review proceedings in the Court of Appeals, taking the position that variances applicable to individual sources may be approved only if they meet the much more stringent procedural and substantive standards of § 110(f), which, upon application prior to the compliance date for a stationary source or class of moving sources, permits 'postponements' of no more than one year of any requirement of a plan, subject to specified conditions. That court upheld respondents' contentions and ordered the EPA to disapprove Georgia's variance provision. Held: The EPA's construction of the Act permitting treatment of individual variances from state requirements as 'revisions,' under § 110(a)(3), of state implementation plans if they will not interfere with timely attainment and subsequent maintenance of national air quality standards, rather than as 'postponements' under § 110(f), was sufficiently reasonable to preclude the Court of Appeals from substituting its judgment for that of the EPA. Pp. 75-99.

(a) Section 110(f) is a safety valve by which may be accorded, under certain carefully specified circumstances, exceptions to the mandatory deadlines for meeting national standards, and, contrary to respondents' contention, does not constitute the sole mechanism by which exceptions to a plan's requirements may be obtained. Pp. 78-84.

(b) This concept of § 110(f)'s limited role is reinforced by comparison with § 110(e), which permits a two-year extension of the three-year period referred to in § 110(a)(2)(A)(i) on a showing far less stringent than that required for a § 110(f) one-year postponement, which would be inexplicable were § 110(f) the sole mechanism for States to modify their initial formulations of emission limitations. Pp. 84-86

(c) Noting that § 110(f) provides that a postponement may be granted with respect to the date that 'any stationary source' must comply with 'any requirement of an applicable state implementation plan,' the Court of Appeals reached an erroneous conclusion that the § 110(f) procedure was exclusive; the language of that provision does not mandate that all modifications of a plan's requirements necessarily be treated as postponements, precluding other forms of relief. Pp. 87-88.

(d) The Court of Appeals also erred in its conclusion that 'a revision is a change in a generally applicable requirement,' whereas a 'postponement or variance' deals with particular parties, for here the implementation plans being revised are quite detailed; moreover, the court's analysis overlooks obvious distinctions between revisions and postponements in the statutory context. Pp. 88-90.

(e) Section 110(a)(3) revisions are granted by the EPA only if they comport with the § 110(a)(2)(A) requirement that the national standards be attained as expeditiously as practicable and thereafter maintained, so the 'technology forcing' nature of the Amendments is no reason for judging under § 110(f) variances which qualify for approval under § 110(a)(3). P. 90-91.

(f) Congress felt that the EPA could feasibly and reliably perform the measurement and predictive functions necessary to pass on variances a revisions under § 110(a)(3). Pp. 91-94.

(g) Respondents' argument that because any variance would delay attainment of national standards beyond what was previously considered as the earliest practicable date, and that because the Act requires attainment as soon as practicable, any variance must therefore be treated as a postponement, is not supported by the legislative history or otherwise. Pp. 94-97.

(h) Respondents' contention, based on § 110(a)(2)(H), that revision authority is limited to general changes initiated by the EPA in order to 'accelerate abatement or attain it in greater concert with other national goals,' is specious. That provision, which does no more than impose a minimum requirement that state plans be capable of such modifications as are necessary to meet the basic goal of cleansing the ambient air to the extent necessary to protect public health, as expeditiously as possible within the three-year period, does not prevent the States from also permitting ameliorative revisions not contrary to that goal. Pp. 97-98.

489 F.2d 390, reversed and remanded.

Gerald P. Norton, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Richard E. Ayres, Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Max N. Edwards and John Hardin Young, Washington, D.C., for American Iron and Steel Institute as amicus curiae.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case, 419 U.S. 823, 95 S.Ct. 39, 42 L.Ed.2d 46 (1974), to review a judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit which required petitioner Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to disapprove a portion of the implementation plan submitted to him by the State of Georgia pursuant to the Clean Air Amendments of 1970.1 The case presents an issue of statutory construction which is illuminated by the anatomy of the statute itself, by its legislative history, and by the history of congressional efforts to control air pollution.


Congress initially responded to the problem of air pollution by offering encouragement and assistance to the States. In 1955 the Surgeon General was authorized to study the problem of air pollution, to support research, training, and demonstration projects, and to provide technical assistance to state and local governments attempting to abate pollution. 69 Stat. 322. In 1960 Congress directed the Surgeon General to focus his attention on the health hazards resulting from motor vehicle emissions. Pub.L. 86—493, 74 Stat. 162. The Clean Air Act of 1963, 77 Stat. 392, authorized federal authorities to expand their research efforts, to make grants to state air pollution control agencies, and also to intervene directly to abate interstate pollution in limited circumstances. Amendments in 1965, § 101, 79 Stat. 992, and in 1966, 80 Stat. 954, broadened federal authority to control motor vehicle emissions and to make grants to state pollution control agencies.

The focus shifted somewhat in the Air Quality Act of 1967, 81 Stat. 485. It reiterated the premise of the earlier Clean Air Act 'that the prevention and control of air pollution at its source is the primary responsibility of States and local governments.' Ibid. Its provisions, however, increased the federal role in the prevention of air pollution, by according federal authorities certain powers of supervision and enforcement. But the States generally retained wide latitude to determine both the air quality standards which they would meet and the period of time in which they would do so.

The response of the State to these manifestations of increasing congressional concern with air pollution was disappointing. Even by 1970, state planning and implementation under the Air Quality Act of 1967 had made little progress. Congress reacted by taking a stick to the States in the form of the Clean Air Amendments of 1970, Pub.L. 91—604, 84 Stat. 1676, enacted on December 31 of that year. These Amendments sharply increased federal authority and responsibility in the continuing effort to combat air pollution. Nonetheless, the Amendments explicitly preserved the principle: 'Each State shall have the primary responsibility for assuring air quality within the entire geographic area comprising such State . . ..' § 107(a) of the Clean Air Act, as added, 84 Stat. 1678, 42 U.S.C. § 1857c—2(a). The difference under the Amendments was that the States were no longer given any choice as to whether they would meet this responsibility. For the first time they were required to attain air quality of specified standards, and to do so within a specified period of time.

The Amendments directed that within 30 days of their enactment the Environmental...

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