Brett Kavanaugh

Post image for Ethanol Litigation: Another Powerful Dissent by Judge Kavanaugh

On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied by 7-1 a petition for a full-court re-hearing of its 2-1 decision last summer to dismiss litigation challenging EPA’s approval of the sale of E15 at retail motor fuel pumps. E15 is a blend of 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol.

In both decisions, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was the sole dissenter, and both times he trounces the majority on the facts and statutory logic.

In a previous post, I reviewed Kavanaugh’s dissent in the August 2012 decision. Herewith a brief recap:

  • The 2-1 majority held that petitioners — refiners and livestock producers — would not be injured by the EPA’s grant of a waiver authorizing the sale of E15 and thus lack standing to challenge the agency. The majority somehow missed the obvious.
  • There being no commercial substitute for ethanol to meet the ever-increasing production quota established by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), EPA approval of E15 is a de facto mandate on refiners to increase the blend from E10 to E15 — a roughly 50% increase from about 14 billion gallons to 21 billion gallons annually. That will necessarily impose a cost on refiners. 
  • In addition, because virtually all U.S. ethanol is made from corn, approving E15 will increase the demand for and price of corn, imposing a cost on livestock producers, who purchase billions of bushels annually to feed their hogs, cattle, and poultry.
  • Clearly, EPA approval of E15 injures both petitioner groups, so the Court should have reviewed the petitions on the merits.
  • Section 211(f) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) prohibits the EPA from approving the sale of any fuel additive that causes or contributes to the failure of emission control systems in any vehicle manufactured after 1974. 
  • By the EPA’s own admission, E15 can contribute to emission control failures in vehicles manufactured during model years 1975 through 2000.
  • Therefore, the EPA lacks authority to approve the sale of E15.

Kavanaugh’s dissent in Tuesday’s decision reiterates those points but also adds some illuminating refinements. [click to continue…]

Post image for Will the Supreme Court Review EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations? Part II

In Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, petitioners — a coalition of industry groups, states, and non-profit organizations — sought to overturn the EPA’s endangerment, tailpipe, triggering, and tailoring rules for greenhouse gases (GHGs). In June of last year, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the EPA, upholding the four GHG rules. In August, coalition members petitioned for an en banc (full court) rehearing of the case. On Dec. 20, 2012 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the petitions by 5-2.

However, given the importance of the issues and the strength of the two dissenting opinions, the case may go to the Supreme Court. Last week, I reviewed Judge Janice Rogers Brown’s dissenting opinion. Today, I review Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent.

Judge Brown chiefly addresses the “interpretative shortcomings” of the Mass. v. EPA Supreme Court decision, which authorized the EPA to regulate GHGs via the Clean Air Act (CAA). Kavanaugh directs his fire at the opinion, shared by the EPA and the five-judge majority, that the CAA’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) preconstruction permitting program applies to GHGs, and at the agency’s attempt to “tailor” away the consequent “absurd results” by rewriting the statute. [click to continue…]

Post image for Will the Supreme Court Review EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations?

Powerful dissenting opinions can sometimes persuade a higher court to review a lower court’s ruling. Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Supreme Court decision empowering the EPA to act as a super legislature and ‘enact’ climate policy, is a prime example.

In 2005, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Bush administration EPA properly exercised its discretion when it denied a petition by eco-litigation groups to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new motor vehicles under §202 of the Clean Air Act (CAA). I remember feeling relieved but disappointed. The 2-1 majority ducked the central issue, namely, whether the CAA authorizes the EPA to regulate GHGs as climate change agents. In contrast, Judge David Tatel’s dissent made a strong argument that the EPA does have the power to regulate GHGs and, consequently, has a duty to determine whether GHG emissions endanger public health or welfare. Tatel’s opinion was a key factor persuading the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Court in Massachusetts ruled in favor of petitioners, setting the stage for the EPA’s ongoing, ever-expanding regulation of GHG emissions from both mobile and stationary sources.

The EPA’s greenhouse regulatory surge, however, is not yet ‘settled law.’ Recent strong dissenting opinions by two D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges may persuade the Supreme Court to review one or more of the agency’s GHG rules — or even reassess its ruling in Mass. v. EPA. [click to continue…]

Post image for Court Vacates EPA Cross State Air Pollution Rule

Today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), also known as the Transport Rule. The Rule’s purpose is to implement the Clean Air Act’s ‘good neighbor policy,’ which prohibits upwind states from contributing significantly to downwind states’ non-attainment with National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

The Court vacated the CSAPR because . . . (drum roll, please) . . . the EPA regulated beyond its statutory authority. Dog bites man.

From the decision, filed for the Court by Judge Brett Kavanaugh:

Absent a claim of constitutional authority (and there is none here), executive agencies may exercise only the authority conferred by statute, and agencies may not transgress statutory limits on that authority.

Here, EPA’s Transport Rule exceeds the agency’s statutory authority in two independent respects. First, the statutory text grants EPA authority to require upwind States to reduce only their own significant contributions to a downwind State’s nonattainment. But under the Transport Rule, upwind States may be required to reduce emissions by more than their own significant contributions to a downwind State’s nonattainment. EPA has used the good neighbor provision to impose massive emissions reduction requirements on upwind States without regard to the limits imposed by the statutory text. Whatever its merits as a policy matter, EPA’s Transport Rule violates the statute. Second, the Clean Air Act affords States the initial opportunity to implement reductions required by EPA under the good neighbor provision. But here, when EPA quantified States’ good neighbor obligations, it did not allow the States the initial opportunity to implement the required reductions with respect to sources within their borders. Instead, EPA quantified States’ good neighbor obligations and simultaneously set forth EPA-designed Federal Implementation Plans, or FIPs, to implement those obligations at the State level. By doing so, EPA departed from its consistent prior approach to implementing the good neighbor provision and violated the Act.

For each of those two independent reasons, EPA’s Transport Rule violates federal law. Therefore, the Rule must be vacated.


Post image for U.S. Court of Appeals: Food, Fuel Groups not Injured by EPA’s Approval of E15, Hence Lack Standing to Sue — Huh?

Today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 2-1 decision that automakers, petroleum refiners, and food producers lack standing to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) approval of E15 — a blend of gasoline and 15% ethanol — for motor vehicles manufactured after 2000.

Petitioners argued that the EPA acted illegally. Section 211(f) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) prohibits the introduction of new fuels and additives into the U.S. motor fuel supply unless the manufacturer demonstrates that such fuels or additives “will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system” of any motor vehicle, motor vehicle engine, nonroad vehicle, or nonroad engine manufactured after model year 1974. By the EPA’s own admission, E15 can contribute to emission failures in vehicles manufactured between 1975 and 2000. Petitioners argued that CAA 211(f) gives the EPA no authority to grant a “partial waiver” for the sale of new fuels or additives to a subset of vehicles (e.g., model years 2001 and later).

Chief Justice David Sentelle and Judge David Tatel held that petitioners lack standing to sue. According to Sentelle and Tatel, petitioners could not show that the EPA’s approval of E15 would likely cause a ‘concrete’ and ‘imminent’ injury to any automaker, refiner, or food producer.

I’ll grant that the automakers’ asserted injury may be ‘speculative’ or ‘conjectural.’ However, it is hard to fathom how the EPA’s approval of E15 would not impose substantial costs on both petroleum refiners and food producers. The switch from E10 to E15 means a 50% increase in the quantity of ethanol blended into the nation’s motor fuel supply, potentially increasing ethanol sales from 14 billion gallons a year to 21 billion gallons. Since nearly all U.S. ethanol today comes from corn, the switch to E15 could substantially increase demand for corn, corn prices, and the quantity of corn diverted from feed and food production to motor fuel production.

Sentelle and Tatal argued that refiners and food producers are not injured because the EPA is merely giving refiners the ‘option’ to blend and sell E15, not forcing them to do so. But this is a distinction without a difference. As the justices acknowledge, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) will soon require refiners to sell more ethanol than can be blended as E10. Thus, if the EPA waiver is upheld, refiners will have no real choice but to blend and sell E15, and this will impose substantial, predictable costs on both refiners and food producers. Their injury is concrete and imminent. The Court, therefore, should have reviewed the case on the merits and struck down the waiver as exceeding the EPA’s authority under CAA Section 211.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent is so powerful and convincing that I will be surprised if the case is not appealed and overturned. Excerpts from Kavanaugh’s dissent follow.   [click to continue…]