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Environmental protection

American Farm Bureau Federation v. United States EPA, 559 F.3d 512 (D.C. Cir. 2009)

Outcome:  Very favorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations governing National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter adequately protected public health.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the health based provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Case summary

Effective December 18, 2006 and pursuant to the Clean Air Act, the EPA revised its regulations governing National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter.  The industries regulated by these new regulations complained that the new standards were unduly onerous and sued to have them made more lenient.  At the same time, several public health organizations complained that the new standards were unduly lenient, and they sued to have them made stricter.  These various lawsuits were consolidated into a single action before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

On February 24, 2009, the Court of Appeals struck down the regulations, finding them contrary to law and inadequately reasoned.  The court observed that the EPA had failed to consider relevant epidemiological studies and thus did not sufficiently protect the public health.  It remanded the issue to the EPA for further consideration.

AMA involvement

The AMA and four specialty medical societies filed an amicus brief, arguing that the modified regulations should be made more stringent.

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit brief

West Virginia v. EPA

Issue

The issue in this case is whether the Federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) can enact regulations which restrict the total carbon dioxide emissions from all power plants within a state.

AMA interest

The AMA supports limitations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to protect public health.

Case summary

On October 23, 2015, the EPA promulgated regulations which would restrict carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.  On the same day, 12 state governments, led by West Virginia, sued in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to have the regulations declared invalid as exceeding the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”).  Subsequently, 37 additional appeals were consolidated into this case.

The plaintiffs maintain that the new EPA regulations would establish quotas for the total carbon dioxide emissions from power plants within a state.  This would mean that if a state was at or near its carbon dioxide quota and a utility wished to add to its power generating capacity by the addition of a new plant, the utility would have to either (a) induce an existing power plant within the state to operate more efficiently, (b) induce an existing power plant within the state to shut down, or (c) build a low-polluting or non-polluting power plant by (i) employment of extraordinary anti-pollution technologies for a coal-fired plant or (ii) substituting low or zero-carbon energy generation, such as through the use of a natural gas plant or wind or solar energy sources.  Thus, the regulations impose economic pressures to retire pre-existing power plants in favor of “green” energy (wind or solar), even if the pre-existing power plants may individually satisfy environmental standards.

The plaintiffs argue that the CAA gives the EPA broad authority to regulate emissions from new power plants, but it gives only limited authority to regulate existing power plants.  Existing power plants are, to a greater extent, left to state regulation.  The new EPA regulations are claimed to be invalid, because they sidestep this statutory limitation on the EPA’s authority through a novel method of economic incentives, which, in practical effect, broadly regulate existing power plants.

The plaintiffs moved to have the regulations stayed pending resolution of the appeals.  The Court of Appeals denied the stay motions on January 21, 2016.  The plaintiffs appealed this denial to the Supreme Court.

On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court, by a five to four vote, stayed enforcement of the EPA regulations until complete resolution of the case.  The stay is to last until exhaustion of review by the Supreme Court, if such review should be sought.

AMA involvement

The AMA, along with numerous other health care organizations, filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals supporting the EPA regulations as an important benefit to public health.

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit brief