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United States Steel Corp. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

decided: August 1, 1979.


Petitions for Review of an Order from the United States Environmental Protection Agency

Before Castle, Senior Circuit Judge, Cummings and Sprecher, Circuit Judges.

Author: Sprecher

This case arises from the Environmental Protection Agency's promulgation of a list designating those areas which do not meet national primary or secondary ambient air quality standards. The petitioners attack these designations on both substantive and procedural grounds. We find both claims to be without merit, and we uphold the agency's designations.


Under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401-7626, the Administrator of the EPA was required to promulgate national primary and secondary ambient air quality standards. 42 U.S.C. § 7409(a). The Administrator has promulgated these standards and they are codified at 40 C.F.R. §§ 50.1-50.11 (1978). After these standards were established, the states had a statutory responsibility to develop implementation plans to achieve these standards. See 42 U.S.C. § 7410. The Act required the state plans to provide for the attainment of these standards no later than 1975. However, in 1977 it became clear that these standards had not yet been achieved. Accordingly, Congress amended the Act to restructure the scheme for attaining these standards. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977, P.L. 95-95, 91 Stat. 685 (August 7, 1977). These amendments pushed the primary standard compliance deadline forward to 1982. 42 U.S.C. § 7502(a) (1). Further, to insure that this deadline would be met, Congress established a new implementation process. This implementation process was to begin with a combined state and federal effort for the designation of those areas not in compliance with air quality standards. 42 U.S.C. § 7407(d)(1).*fn1 The designation of an area as "nonattainment" imposes upon the state the obligation to include certain more stringent provisions in its implementation plan. 42 U.S.C. § 7502.

Under the scheme established by § 7407(d)(1), the states were required to submit to the EPA, within one hundred and twenty days after the passage of the Act, a list identifying the attainment status of all air quality control regions within the state. Pursuant to this requirement, Harry D. Williams, director of the Air Pollution Control Division of the Indiana State Board of Health submitted a draft copy of the state of Indiana's designations, indicating that a final copy would be sent on December 5, 1977, the statutory deadline. The final report designated portions of Northern Indiana in which petitioners operate steel works as nonattainment areas.

The EPA published its list of attainment designations, based on the state's submissions, on March 3, 1978. 43 Fed.Reg. 8962.*fn2 This list accepted the state of Indiana's designation of certain portions of Northern Indiana as "nonattainment." Furthermore, the EPA indicated that although these designations were to be immediately effective, it was soliciting comments on these designations for 60 days. Comments were submitted by the petitioners in this case and by other interested parties, and on October 5, 1978, the EPA reaffirmed its designation of certain portions of Northern Indiana as nonattainment, although it did make alterations in designations with respect to other areas. 43 Fed.Reg. 46007.


Petitioners contend that the EPA's promulgation of these attainment designations violated the procedural requirements of 5 U.S.C. § 553 by not providing for notice and comment prior to the effective dates of the designations.*fn3 We reject this contention on two grounds. First, we hold that the agency had "good cause" to postpone the proceeding within the meaning of section 553's specific exemption. Second, we find that even if the agency lacked "good cause" within the terms of section 553, we are precluded from reversing by the Clean Air Act. The Act limits the circumstances in which rules promulgated by the EPA may be reversed for procedural errors.


Section 553(d) of the Administrative Procedure Act contains two "good cause" exceptions. The first, section 553(b)(B) provides that notice of, and public comment on, agency rules may be dispensed with "when the agency for good cause finds . . . that notice and public procedure thereon are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest." The second, section 553(d) (3), provides that "(t)he required publication or service of a substantive rule shall be made not less than 30 days before its effective date except . . . (3) as otherwise provided by the agency for good cause found and published with the rule." Accordingly, in a case such as the one before us where a regulation is made effective before notice and comment, the agency could rely on either "good cause" provision. Thus, the EPA made its attainment designations immediately effective, stating:

The States are now preparing revisions to their State implementation plans (SIPs) as required by sections 110(a)(2)(1) and 172 of the Act. This enterprise, which must be completed by January 1, 1979, requires that the States have immediate guidance as to the attainment status of the areas designated under section 107(d). Congress has acknowledged this by imposing a tight schedule on the designation process and requiring EPA to promulgate the list within 180 days of the enactment of the amendments. Under these circumstances it would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest to ignore the statutory schedule and postpone publishing these regulations until notice and comment can be effectuated. For this good cause, the Administrator has made these designations immediately effective.

The agency's statement of "good cause" does not reveal on which of the two provisions the agency was relying. Although at least two commentators have suggested that the two provisions provide the same standard of good cause,*fn4 we believe that the standards are distinct and that the agency action, while justifiable under the (b)(B) standard, is unquestionably, justifiable under the broader standard set out by (d)(3).

Turning first to whether the agency action here was justified under the narrower (b)(B) standard, we find that such justification existed under the impracticability standard embodied in the statutory language of the first good cause exception. The legislative history of this impracticability standard reveals that Congress intended this exemption to operate when the regular course of rulemaking procedure would interfere with the agency's ability to perform its functions within the time constraints imposed by Congress. Early versions of this provision allowed public participation to be dropped where it was "impracticable because of unavoidable lack of time or other emergency." S.Doc.No.248, 79th Cong., 2d Sess. 140, 148, 157 (1946). The exception was broadened by the elimination of this qualifying language. The Senate and House Reports ...

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