EPA v. Nat'l Crushed Stone Assn.
Annotate this Case
449 U.S. 64 (1980)
U.S. Supreme Court
EPA v. Nat'l Crushed Stone Assn., 449 U.S. 64 (1980)
Environmental Protection Agency v.
National Crushed Stone Association
Argued October 7, 1980
Decided December 2, 1980
449 U.S. 64
Under § 301(b) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to set 1977 effluent limitations for categories of point sources, requiring such sources to meet standards based on application of the "best practicable control technology currently available" (BPT), and 1987 limitations, requiring all point sources to meet standards based on application of the "best available technology economically achievable" (BAT). Section 301(c) of the Act provides for variances from 1987 BAT effluent limitations for individual point sources upon a showing "that such modified requirements (1) will represent the maximum use of technology within the economic capability of the owner or operators; and (2) will result in reasonable further progress toward the elimination of the discharge of pollutants." However, the Act contains no similar variance provision authorizing consideration of the economic ability of the individual operator to meet the cost of complying with 1977 BPT standards. In 1977, the EPA promulgated BPT pollution discharge limitations for the coal mining industry and for certain portions of the mineral mining and processing industry. Under the regulations, a greater than normal cost of implementation will be considered in acting on a request for a variance, but a variance will not be granted on the basis of the applicant's economic inability to meet the cost of implementing the uniform standard. Respondents sought review of the regulations in various Courts of Appeals, challenging both the substantive standards and the variance clause. All of the petitions were transferred to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which set aside the variance provision as unduly restrictive and required the EPA to consider, inter alia, the factors set out in § 301(c), including the applicant's economic capability.
Held: The Court of Appeals erred in not accepting the EPA's interpretation of the Act. The EPA is not required by the Act to consider economic
capability in granting variances from its uniform BPT standards. Pp. 449 U. S. 73-85.
(a) The statute's plain language does not support the Court of Appeals' position. Section 301(c)'s requirement for a BAT variance of "reasonable further progress" toward the elimination of pollutant discharges refers to the prior BPT standard, but there is no comparable prior standard with respect to BPT limitations. And since BPT limitations do not require an industrial category to commit the maximum resources economically possible to pollution control, even if affordable, the § 301(c) BAT variance factor as to the maximum use of technology within the applicant's economic capability is inapposite in the BPT context. More importantly, under the Act, the Administrator of the EPA, in determining BPT limitations, is directed to consider the benefits of effluent reductions as compared to the cost of pollution control in defining the best practicable technology at a level that would effect the 1977 goal of substantially reducing total pollution produced by each industrial category. Thus, the statute contemplated regulations that would require a substantial number of point sources with the poorest performances either to conform to BPT standards or to cease production. To allow a BPT variance based on economic capability and not to require adherence to the prescribed minimum technology would permit the employment of the very practices that the Administrator had rejected in establishing the best practicable technology currently available in the industry. Pp. 449 U. S. 73-78.
(b) The EPA's interpretation of the statutory language is also supported by the legislative history, which shows that Congress understood that the economic capability provision of § 301(c) was limited to BAT variances; foresaw and accepted the economic hardship, including the closing of some plants, that BPT effluent limitations would cause; and took certain steps to alleviate this hardship, steps which did not include allowing a BPT variance based on economic capability. Pp. 449 U. S. 79-83.
(c) In the face of § 301(c)'s explicit limitation to BAT variances and in the absence of any other specific direction in the statute to provide for BPT variances in connection with permits for individual point sources, the Administrator adopted a reasonable construction of the statutory mandate, and the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that, since BAT limitations are to be more stringent than BPT limitations, the variance provision for the latter must be at least as flexible as that for the former with respect to affordability. Pp. 449 U. S. 83-84.
601 F.2d 111 and 604 F.2d 239, reversed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except POWELL, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.