On June 2, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) denied nineteen consolidated petitions for review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) compliance determinations with EPA’s 2008 ground-level ozone standards, known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”).  By denying review, the D.C. Circuit affirmed EPA’s authority to make such compliance determinations under the Clean Air Act, and upheld EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act and EPA’s corresponding obligations as applied to the NAAQS.

By way of background, the D.C. Circuit explained in its order that the Clean Air Act requires that EPA promulgate the NAAQS, which in turn set the maximum permissible level of concentration of certain pollutants in the atmosphere.  The D.C. Circuit also explained that once those levels are set, EPA must then identify which geographic areas do not comply with the NAAQS, referred to as “nonattainment areas.”  After EPA designates a nonattainment area, EPA must then establish nonattainment parameters and set deadlines for the states within the nonattainment area to comply with the NAAQS.  The D.C. Circuit also noted that geographic areas in which no designation can be made based on existing data are designated as “unclassifiable” and are treated the same as those areas determined to be in attainment.

After EPA issued its compliance determinations regarding the NAAQS, several different petitioners contested EPA’s findings for several different reasons.  Various petitioners, including the states of Connecticut and Delaware argued that the EPA failed by not designating broad, multi-state areas along the East coast as nonattainment areas.  Other petitioners, including environmental interest groups, argued to the D.C. Circuit that EPA had inappropriately designated certain geographic areas as achieving attainment or being unclassifiable despite EPA having limited data for such areas.  Finally, other petitioners, including the states of Mississippi, Indiana and Texas, disputed EPA’s designation of certain areas as nonattainment areas.

In making its determinations to deny review, the D.C. Circuit explained that most “every petitioner argues that, for one reason or another, the EPA acted arbitrarily or capriciously in making its final NAAQs designations.”  With regard to EPA’s compliance decisions involving the East coast, the D.C. Circuit concluded that EPA’s designations were consistent with the Clean Air Act’s language regarding nonattainment for nearby areas.  The D.C. Circuit also determined that EPA’s determinations involving areas with limited data were reasonable and supported based on the information EPA had available when it issued its determinations.  Finally, the D.C. Circuit upheld various nonattainment designations made by EPA after concluding that the record demonstrated that EPA considered all relevant factors in the process, reached a reasonable decision, and did so in an area identified by Congress as within EPA’s technical expertise.  In general, the D.C. Circuit stated that because “EPA complied with the Constitution, reasonably interpreted the [Clean Air] Act’s critical terms and wholly satisfied—indeed, in most instances, surpassed—its obligation to engage in reasoned decision-making, we deny the consolidated petitions for review in their entirety.”

To view the order, click here.