Home » Case Summaries » 2015 » Committee for a Better Arvin v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 786 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2015)

 
 

Committee for a Better Arvin v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 786 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2015)

 

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In this case, the Committee for a Better Arvin, along with a coalition of environmental and community groups (collectively, Committee for a Better Arvin),[1] sought judicial review of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) actions from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Committee for a Better Arvin asserted that EPA erred in approving California’s plans to comply with air quality standards under the Clean Air Act (CAA).[2] The Ninth Circuit granted in part, denied in part, and remanded to EPA.

Under the CAA, states are required to create a State Implementation Plan (SIP), which establishes measures for complying with National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).[3] Areas that do not currently meet those standards are known as nonattainment areas.[4] Initially the proposed SIP is made open to the public, and after public notice and hearings, EPA is required to review the SIP and either approve it or reject it in part or in whole.[5] Committee for a Better Arvin challenged EPA’s approval of revisions to California’s 2007 SIP, and specifically challenged the revised NAAQS compliance plans for two pollutants: fine particulate matter and ozone. Although separate petitions were filed for each pollutant, the court addressed them collectively as both petitions were closely related and involved the same parties.

The court first noted that Congress gave EPA general rulemaking authority with respect to the CAA. As a result, the court reviewed EPA’s actions to determine whether the actions were reasonable or inconsistent with the CAA. The court found that, because the revised SIP did not contain requisite mobile emission standards, EPA violated the CAA by approving the revisions. However, the court also found that EPA did not violate the CAA by failing to require California to include other state mechanisms in the SIP and that the other control measures approved by EPA were enforceable.

First, Committee for a Better Arvin argued that EPA’s approval of California’s SIP violated the CAA. California’s SIP calculated necessary emission reductions and forecasts based on state adopted measures (waiver measures), which were not incorporated into the SIP. While the CAA provides a private right of action for citizens to enforce a SIP’s provision through federal court,[6] only those provisions included in the SIP are subject to such enforcement.[7]

EPA argued that the CAA does not require including waiver measures in the SIP due to EPA’s longstanding policy of not requiring the inclusion of waiver measures in California’s SIPs and because Congress ratified the longstanding policy in the CAA’s savings clause.[8] The court rejected this argument and focused on the plain language of § 7410(a) of the CAA, which stated that SIPs “shall include” all emissions, control measures, means, and techniques on which the state relies.[9] In addition, the court found that the savings clause does not apply to policies that are “inconsistent with any provisions of this chapter.”[10] Since EPA’s policy was inconsistent with the plain language of § 7410(a), the court held that EPA violated the CAA by approving California’s SIP without the inclusion of waiver measures.

Committee for a Better Arvin also argued that EPA erred by not requiring the inclusion of three nonwaiver measures into California’s SIP. In response, EPA argued that one of the measures was partially invalidated by the California Supreme Court, while the other two measures would have only a de minimis effect on emission reductions and did not affect California’s ability to meet air quality standards. The court agreed with EPA, finding that the first nonwaiver measure was properly excluded from the SIP because the measure was partially invalidated by the California Supreme Court, and that EPA’s conclusion that the remaining nonwaiver measures would have only a de minimis impact on overall emission reduction was not arbitrary and capricious, or contrary to law.

Committee for a Better Arvin went on to argue that EPA’s approval of California’s proposed control strategies to comply with NAAQS was in violation of the CAA. Committee for a Better Arvin reasoned that California’s commitment to achieve aggregate emission reductions was merely an aspirational goal because the commitment contained no specific strategies or measures. It claimed that California could simply fail to meet individual emission reductions targets as long as the aggregate reduction commitment was met. The court rejected this argument, finding that, because commitments in the SIP required California to meet specific reductions by specific deadlines, California’s commitment to propose and adopt emission control measures was not merely an aspirational and unenforceable goal.

In the alternative, Committee for a Better Arvin argued that the commitments were unenforceable because California had discretion whether to change or honor the commitments. The court rejected this argument as well and reasoned that, once approved, commitments in the SIP would be binding and could only be changed with EPA’s approval. The court went on to note that EPA may not approve any SIP revision that would interfere with California’s ability to meet air quality requirements.[11]

Lastly, Committee for a Better Arvin argued that the commitments were unenforceable because it would be impossible to bring a timely objection if commitments were not met by the deadline. Petitioners reasoned that information on whether state agencies have fulfilled their commitments is held exclusively by the California Air Resources Board and the Intervenor, San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, and is not available to the public. Further, even if the public could determine whether California’s commitments were fulfilled, this determination would not be known until after the deadline, at which point it would be too late to sue for enforcement.

The court rejected Committee for a Better Arvin’s argument, explaining that all relevant information was available throughout the regulatory process prior to the adoption of emission control measures. In addition, the court rejected Petitioner’s timing argument. The court reasoned that just because the public cannot sue to enforce a commitment until after the deadline has passed does not negate the commitment’s enforceability. The court concluded that if California did not fulfill its commitment, the public could seek a remedy for such violations, and EPA could use means available in the CAA to ensure that California attains relevant NAAQS in a timely manner.

 

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Petitioners include the Comite Residentes Organizados al Servicio del Ambiente Sano, and Association of Irritated Residents.
  2. 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401–7671q (2012).
  3. Id. §§ 7409–7410.
  4. Id. § 7407(d)(1)(A)(i).
  5. Id. § 7410(k)(3).
  6. Id. § 7604.
  7. El Comité Para el Bienestar de Earlimart v. Warmerdam, 539 F.3d 1062, 1069 (9th Cir. 2008).
  8. 42 U.S.C. § 7410(a)(2)(A) (2012).
  9. Id. § 7410(a).
  10. Id. § 7515.
  11. Id. § 7410(a)(1).
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