NRDC v. EPA Case Brief

Summary of NRDC v. EPA
526 F.3d 591

Relevant Facts: The National Resources Defense Council challenged the EPA’s permit exemption for oil and gas construction sites. The NRDC argued that it was a violation of the CWA (Clean Water Act), because the exemption was inconsistent with the CWA’s goal of protecting the nation’s waters. The NRDC wanted the EPA to zero emission policy regarding all carcinogenic air pollutants, but the EPA did not do so, so the NRDC sued the EPA to maintain the regulatory standards initially imposed when the statute was passed.

Issues: The legal question presented was whether the EPA had the discretion to determine how to designate pollutants carcinogens in order to follow the intent of the CWA?

Holding: The Court held that the EPA did not have discretion to go against what was originally intended in the CWA.

Reasoning: The Court reasoned that the EPA’s sole reason for imposing its discretion in the matter was to cut costs, and doing so was not a compelling reason to not follow the legislative intent of the CWA. However, the Court also found and reasoned that despite the fact that the legislative intent was to ensure that the EPA implements an ample margin of safety standard for air pollutants, it is improbable if not impossible to be able to discern safety levels prior to the introduction of certain chemicals. While the CWA’s intent is to reduce pollution, determinations regarding pollutants must be done on an individual case basis.

Conclusion: This case was important because the Court (Circuit Court- 9th) asserted that although it was not wholly inconceivable that the EPA could have used discretion properly in such a case, they could not use discretion simply for cost-cutting measures to the detriment of the Act, as doing so would be a defiance of Congressional authority in implementing the act in the first place.

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