Supreme Court Upholds EPA Standard- Setting Under the Clean Air Act: Whitman v. American Trucking Ass'ns


Publication Date: March 2001

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

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On February 27, 2001, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, a challenge to EPA's promulgation in 1997 of revised national ambient air quality standards for ozone and particulates under the Clean Air Act. On the broader issues, the Court ruled that (1) the Act's provisions governing the setting of primary (health-protective) ambient standards did not transgress the ''nondelegation doctrine,'' a moribund constitutional principle that the court below had resurrected, and (2) the Act bars EPA from considering implementation costs when it sets primary national ambient standards. On a narrow issue, the Court held that EPA had not been justified, in promulgating its ozone implementation plan, in applying only the Act's nonattainment-area subpart of general application, rather than a subpart specific to ozone nonattainment. As a result, the Court charged the agency with developing a ''reasonable interpretation'' accommodating both subparts. Such accommodation is likely to prove a difficult task, however, and almost certainly once adopted will generate further legal challenges.