Earlier this month, several of the parties challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act filed petitions for panel rehearing or rehearing en banc in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit turned away all of the state and industry challenges to the EPA’s rules. I summarized the court’s decision here, and provide greater background on the EPA’s regulations and associated policy issues here.
The en banc petitions stress the unusual magnitude and importance of the regulations at issue, as well they should, but that’s often not enough for en banc review. Nor are protestations that the original panel muffed the merits (case in point), particularly where (as here) most of the issues could be resolved on traditional administrative law grounds. The industry argument that the panel erred in refusing to force the EPA to consider potential adaptation to climate change, for example, is a non-starter. Even if the panel got this question wrong (and I don’t believe it did), that’s not the sort of question that is worthy of en banc review.
There is one issue, however, that could well be en banc-worthy: the panel’s conclusion that industry petitioners lacked standing to challenge the EPA’s so-called “tailoring rule.” While the strict application of Article III standing requirements is nothing new on the D.C. Circuit, here the panel applied the standing rules to prevent the object of a government action from challenging the lawfulness of that action, on the grounds that the harm would not be redressable by a favorable ruling on the merits. Though a plausible reading of the relevant standing precedents, this is a holding that could insulate all manner of regulatory action from judicial review, and expand the already troubling, de facto agency authority to issue “waivers” or otherwise disregard applicable legal requirements.
A bit of background: The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to impose various regulatory requirements on stationary sources that have the potential to emit more than 100 or 250 tons per year of regulated pollutants. (The specific threshold depends on the type of facility.) As applied to traditional pollutants, these thresholds catch thousands of facilities. But applied to greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide in particular — they catch millions. This, the EPA claims, would be an “absurd” result because it would impose an insuperable burden on the EPA and cooperating state agencies. To remedy this, the EPA sought to “tailor” the Act’s requirements by substituting numerical thresholds of its own devising for those contained in the statute itself. So with a wave of its administrative hand, the EPA substituted 75,000 and 100,000 for 100 and 250, and reserved the right to lower the threshold at its discretion in the future.