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Hollingsworth LLP clients win significant environmental victory in U.S. Supreme Court.

news | June 25, 2014

In a complex decision on June 23, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court held that EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act when it failed to exclude small businesses as potential targets of its greenhouse gas regulations.  Firm attorneys made that specific argument on behalf of America’s small businesses in an amicus curiae brief filed in the High Court on behalf of 75 state and local Chambers of Commerce.

The Supreme Court agreed, holding that “[a] brief review of the relevant statutory provisions leaves no doubt that [EPA’s permitting requirements] are designed to apply to, and cannot be rationally extended beyond, a relative handful of large sources capable of shouldering heavy substantive and procedural burdens.”  Slip op. at 18.  According to the Court, it was “outrageous” for EPA to insist upon seizing such “expansive power” to “require permits for the construction and modification of tens of thousands, and the operations of millions of small sources nationwide.” id. at 19-20.

In a statement released to the press, a Firm partner said:

“The Supreme Court gave a stinging and devastating rebuke to EPA’s grand design of regulating the entire American economy on the basis of greenhouse gases.  First, the Court plainly held that EPA exceeded its statutory authority under the Clean Air Act when it concluded that the Act required such regulations – or that the Supreme Court’s prior decisions mandated them.  More importantly, the Court held that the Act’s language did not even permit regulations of such a vast and unprecedented nature.  Thus, the Court swept aside EPA’s entire overreaching effort, and required EPA to reconsider its efforts only as they apply to sources that are plainly within the Act’s limits.

This victory is especially important to American small business — as the Court’s opinion explicitly recognized.  Ultimately those businesses faced potential regulation and expensive permitting — but now they are plainly outside EPA’s reach because their emissions typically fail to exceed EPA’s statutory authority under the Clean Air Act.

Count today as a victory for common sense and plain language — and a profound loss for regulators who erroneously believed that the Clean Air Act was endlessly elastic.”