Environmental Defense Fund Applauds EPA Lawsuit Protecting Public Health

June 28, 1999

The Environmental Defense Fund today applauded the filing of a judicial appeal by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed at upholding vital national clean air health standards. In 1997 EPA established new national clean air health standards for ground-level ozone smog and for the fine, sooty particles that are breathed deep into the lungs. On May 14, 1999, however, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided in a 2-1 vote that EPA’s action was unconstitutional. Today, the EPA filed an appeal, requesting an opportunity to present the Agency’s case to the full court.

“The EPA is right to file an appeal. The judicial panel’s ruling was a major setback to achieving cleaner, healthier air nationwide,” said Vickie Patton, an EDF attorney. “It’s critical that the panel’s decision be overturned. EPA’s clean air standards would help protect millions of Americans with asthma and lung disease,” said Patton.

While all three judges agreed that EPA had ample scientific basis for the new health standards, in a controversial opinion, Judges Stephen Williams and Douglas Ginsburg held that EPA’s decision violated the “nondelegation doctrine.” This is a constitutional doctrine that places constraints on the authority Congress can delegate to administrative agencies. Judge David Tatel vigorously dissented from this part of the opinion. Two 1935 Supreme Court decisions relied on the nondelegation doctrine. Since then, the Supreme Court repeatedly ? without exception ? has rejected numerous challenges to administrative decisions on the basis of the doctrine.

“The judicial panel’s radical decision is inconsistent with a well-established body of Supreme Court case law,” said Patton. “What’s so stunning is that the judges unanimously upheld the scientific basis for the clean air standards at the same time that two of the judges invoked an obsolete legal doctrine to undermine the standards.”