Last Friday, 12 Attorneys General filed a lawsuit challenging EPA’s recently proposed greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan. Putting aside the significant procedural and jurisdictional matters attendant to the case, the meat and potatoes of the AGs’ complaint is that 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act prohibit EPA from issuing the rule.
In response to a reporter’s query, NRDC’s David Doniger called the lawsuit “laughable.” And in a follow up post for NRDC’s blog, Doniger used the modifier “lame” to describe the litigation’s substantive allegations regarding the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.
In reality, however, it is Doniger’s comments that are “lame.” They’re actually worse than lame; they’re the epitome of legal cynicism. This is because NRDC used to make the same argument that is now being advanced by the States. Simply put: NRDC used to argue that EPA doesn’t have the authority to issue the Clean Power Plan. Talk about your all-time flip-flops!
In a previous post, I explained the legislative backstory:
EPA’s recently proposed climate rule for existing power plants is based on Clean Air Act §111(d). This provision authorizes the agency to prescribe “regulations” for “any air pollutant” from “any existing source” …
As originally enacted in 1970, §111(d) included an exclusion that prohibited EPA from prescribing §111(d) regulations for any hazardous air pollutant already regulated under §112 of the Clean Air Act. The idea behind this “§112 Exclusion” was to avoid duplicative regulation.
In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act…The House of Representatives passed a bill that fundamentally changed the nature of the §112 exclusion. Before the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the exclusion from 111(d) applied to hazardous air pollutants regulated under §112; under the House bill, this exclusion applied to §112 source categories (rather than §112 pollutants).
Unlike the House, the Senate bill left unchanged the pre-1990 §112 Exclusion. That is, the Senate version maintained a prohibition on EPA’s issuance of 111(d) regulations for §112 hazardous air pollutants. However, in order to harmonize the pre-1990 §112 Exclusion with the language of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the Senate passed a “conforming” amendment to 111(d). Thus, the Senate’s amendment was a ministerial change.
The Conference Committee adopted the House’s substantive amendment. Logically, the adoption of the House language rendered moot the Senate clerical language. However, the Conference Committee failed to remove the Senate’s conforming amendment. As a result, the Statutes at Large contain both the House’s substantive amendment and the Senate’s conforming amendment.
In a nutshell, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments contained two provisions that circumscribe EPA’s authority under §111(d)—one originating in the House and one in the Senate. The House version prohibits EPA from issuing §111(d) standards for source categories subject to §112, while the Senate version prohibits EPA from issuing §111(d) standards for pollutants subject to §112.*
This “§112 Exemption” is important because EPA in 2012 subjected power plants to §112 standards. Due to the fact that this source category—power plants—is now subject to §112, it is exempt from §111(d) standards, pursuant to the aforementioned House version of the “§112 Exemption.” That is, the Clean Power Plan is illegal if the House provision is given any meaning. To this end, the Attorneys General argue** that the House and Senate provisions can co-exist cogently, such that each retains its meaning. Thus read, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments prohibit EPA from issuing the Clean Power Plan.
According to Doniger, this legal reasoning is “lame.” Yet NRDC used to make the exact same argument! Seven years ago, NRDC opposed a Bush-era rule that would have regulated mercury pursuant to Clean Air Act §111(d), and, in this capacity, Doniger’s employer argued that EPA doesn’t have the authority to issue §111(d) regulations for power plants.
Don’t take my word for it! Below, I’ve reprinted this key paragraph from NRDC’s brief seeking to overturn the Bush-era rule:
EPA fails to refute Environmental Petitioners’ argument that the plain statutory reading that most readily ‘fit[s]… all parts into an harmonious whole’ prohibits EPA from setting § 111 standards for pollutants like mercury “emitted from a source category which is regulated under section 112” or included on the §112(b) list of pollutants... [Formatting added; internal citations omitted].
NRDC’s words speak for themselves. The organization argued before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that EPA does not have the authority to establish §111(d) standards for pollutants like greenhouse gases, which are “emitted from a source category which is regulated under section 112.” This raises an important question: How can the AGs’ argument be “lame” if the NRDC used to make it?***
In a July 6th New York Times article, Cora Davenport reports that David Doniger was one of three NRDC lawyers who wrote the “blueprint” for EPA’s Clean Power Plan. It is “laughable” that the NRDC would write the “blueprint” for a regulation whose legality it used to contest.
*The difference between the House and Senate provisions is reflected in the Statutes at Large, which stipulate that §111(d) applies to “any air pollutant … which is not included on a list published under 7408(a) (or emitted from a source category which is regulated under section 1112) [House amendment] (or 112(b)) [Senate amendment].” [formatting added]
**The AGs primary argument is that the House provision, being a substantive amendment, should take precedent over the Senate’s “clerical” amendment. Their secondary argument is that the House and Senate provisions can co-exist cogently.
*** In his NRDC blog post, Doniger doesn’t bring up NRDC’s past position. His post, moreover, simply ignores the House version of the “§112 Exclusion” codified in the Statutes at Large (the one that would bar EPA/NRDC’s Clean Power Plan. Notably, as a back-up argument, Doniger argues that the House and Senate versions of the “§112 Exclusion” contradict one another, and, due to this contradiction, the statute is ambiguous and the EPA merits deference from the courts. In so doing, he again directly contradicts NRDC’s previous position. Back when NRDC opposed EPA’s authority to promulgate §111(d) regulations for power plants, it argued:
Rather than adopt the plain reading that harmonizes the two amendments and avoids conflict, EPA attempts to manufacture conflict [and thereby try to achieve decision-making deference] by asking this Court to derive dispositive meaning from negative legislative history… In truth, the “conflict” that EPA identifies is no conflict…”