Whitman v American Trucking Associations

Citation121 S.Ct. 903,149 L.Ed.2d 1,531 U.S. 457
Decision Date27 February 2001
Docket Number991257
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

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 108. Pursuant to 109(d)(1), the Administrator in 1997 revised the ozone and particulate matter NAAQS. Respondents in No. 99-1257, private parties and several States (hereinafter respondents), challenged the revised NAAQS on several grounds. The District of Columbia Circuit found that, under the Administrator's interpretation, 109(b)(1)-which instructs the EPA to set standards "the attainment and maintenance of which ... are requisite to protect the public health" with "an adequate margin of safety"-delegated legislative power to the Administrator in contravention of the Federal Constitution, and it remanded the NAAQS to the EPA. The Court of Appeals also declined to depart from its rule that the EPA may not consider implementation costs in setting the NAAQS. And it held that, although certain implementation provisions for the ozone NAAQS contained in Part D, Subpart 2, of Title I of the CAA did not prevent the EPA from revising the ozone standard and designating certain areas as "nonattainment areas," those provisions, rather than more general provisions contained in Subpart 1, constrained the implementation of the new ozone NAAQS. The court rejected the EPA's argument that it lacked jurisdiction to reach the implementation question because there had been no "final" implementation action.

Held: 1. Section 109(b) does not permit the Administrator to consider implementation costs in setting NAAQS. Because the CAA often expressly grants the EPA the authority to consider implementation costs, a provision for costs will not be inferred from its ambiguous provisions. Union Elec. Co. v. EPA, 427 U.S. 246, 257, and n. 5. And since 109(b)(1) is the engine that drives nearly all of Title I of the CAA, the textual commitment of costs must be clear; Congress does not alter a regulatory scheme's fundamental details in vague terms or ancillary provisions, see MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 512 U.S. 218, 231. Respondents' arguments founder upon this principle. It is implausible that 109(b)(1)'s modest words "adequate margin" and "requisite" give the EPA the power to determine whether implementation costs should moderate national air quality standards. Cf. ibid. And the cost factor is both so indirectly related to public health and so full of potential for canceling the conclusions drawn from direct health effects that it would have been expressly mentioned in 108 and 109 had Congress meant it to be considered. Other CAA provisions, which do require cost data, have no bearing upon whether costs are to be taken into account in setting the NAAQS. Because the text of 109(b)(1) in its context is clear, the canon of construing texts to avoid serious constitutional problems is not applicable. See, e.g., Miller v. French, 530 U.S. 327, 341. Pp. 4-11.

2. Section 109(b)(1) does not delegate legislative power to the EPA. When conferring decisionmaking authority upon agencies, Congress must lay down an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to act is directed to conform. J. W. Hampton, Jr., & Co. v. United States, 276 U.S. 394, 409. An agency cannot cure an unlawful delegation of legislative power by adopting in its discretion a limiting construction of the statute. The limits that 109(b)(1) imposes on the EPA's discretion are strikingly similar to the ones approved in, e.g., Touby v. United States, 500 U.S. 160, and the scope of discretion that 109(b)(1) allows is well within the outer limits of the Court's nondelegation precedents, see, e.g., Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388. Statutes need not provide a determinate criterion for saying how much of a regulated harm is too much to avoid delegating legislative power. Pp. 11-15.

3. The Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to consider the implementation issue under 307 of the CAA. The implementation policy constitutes final agency action under 307 of the CAA because it marked the consummation of the EPA's decisionmaking process, see Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154. The decision is also ripe for review. The question is purely one of statutory interpretation that would not benefit from further factual development, see Ohio Forestry Assn., Inc. v. Sierra Club, 523 U.S. 726, 733; 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 preenforcement review, see id., at 737. The implementation issue was also fairly included within the challenges to the final ozone rule that were before the Court of Appeals, which all parties agree is final agency action ripe for review. Pp. 16-20.

4. The implementation policy is unlawful. Under Chevron U.S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, if the statute resolves the question whether Subpart 1 or Subpart 2 applies to revised ozone NAAQS, that ends the matter; but if the statute is ambiguous, the Court must defer to a reasonable agency interpretation. Here, the statute is ambiguous concerning the interaction between Subpart 1 and Subpart 2, but the Court cannot defer to the EPA's interpretation, which would render Subpart 2's carefully designed restrictions on EPA discretion nugatory once a new ozone NAAQS has been promulgated. The principal distinction between the subparts is that Subpart 2 eliminates regulatory discretion allowed by Subpart 1. The EPA may not construe the statute in a way that completely nullifies textually applicable provisions meant to limit its discretion. In addition, although Subpart 2 was obviously written to govern implementation for some time into the future, nothing in the EPA's interpretation would have prevented the agency from aborting the subpart the day after it was enacted. It is left to the EPA to develop a reasonable interpretation of the nonattainment implementation provisions insofar as they apply to revised ozone NAAQS. Pp. 20-25.

175 F.3d 1027 and 195 F.3d 4, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Justice Thomas, concurring.

I agree with the majority that 109's directive to the agency is no less an "intelligible principle" than a host of other directives that we have approved. Ante, at 13-15. I also agree that the Court of Appeals' remand to the agency to make its own corrective interpretation does not accord with our understanding of the delegation issue. Ante, at 12. I write separately, however, to express my concern that there may nevertheless be a genuine constitutional problem with 109, a problem which the parties did not address.

The parties to this case who briefed the constitutional issue wrangled over constitutional doctrine with barely a nod to the text of the Constitution. Although this Court since 1928 has treated the "intelligible principle" requirement as the only constitutional limit on congressional grants of power to administrative agencies, see J. W. Hampton, Jr., & Co. v. United States, 276 U.S. 394, 409 (1928), the Constitution does not speak of "intelligible principles." Rather, it speaks in much simpler terms: "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress." U.S. Const., Art. 1, 1 (emphasis added). I am not convinced that the intelligible principle doctrine serves to prevent all cessions of legislative power. I believe that there are cases in which the principle is intelligible and yet the significance of the delegated decision is simply too great for the decision to be called anything other than "legislative."

As it is, none of the parties to this case has examined the text of the Constitution or asked us to reconsider our precedents on cessions of legislative power. On a future day, however, I would be willing to address the question whether our delegation jurisprudence has strayed too far from our Founders' understanding of separation of powers.

Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Souter joins, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Section 109(b)(1) delegates to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to promulgate national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). In Part III of its opinion, ante, at 11-15, the Court convincingly explains why the Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that 109 effected "an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power." American Trucking Assns., Inc. v. EPA, 175 F.3d 1027, 1033 (CADC 1999) (per curiam). I wholeheartedly endorse the Court's result and endorse its explanation of its reasons, albeit with the following caveat.

The Court has two choices. We could choose to articulate our ultimate disposition of this issue by frankly acknowledging that the power delegated to the EPA is "legislative" but nevertheless conclude that the delegation is constitutional because adequately limited by the terms of the authorizing statute. Alternatively, we could pretend, as the Court does, that the authority delegated to the EPA is somehow not "legislative power." Despite the fact that there is language in our opinions that supports the Court's articulation...

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