Sierra Club v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, No. 19-2562 (3d Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Sierra Club sought review of the EPA’s approval of new Pennsylvania National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to govern pollution output at coal-burning power plants, as required by the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7408(a). Sierra Club argued that the standards wrongly claim to reduce pollution output at Pennsylvania’s most advanced plants while simply rubber-stamping an average of current pollution output as its supposed new gold standard and criticized the proposal’s minimum temperature threshold—a measure that allows plants to nearly quintuple their pollution output when operating below 600 degrees Fahrenheit—as unsupported and unsupportable given the technical record before the agency. Sierra Club claims that the approved standards lack enforceable reporting regulations.
The Third Circuit remanded to the EPA, finding that “the regulatory regime which springs forth from these three defining characteristics is neither supported by adequate facts nor by reasoning found in the administrative record.” Given the EPA’s concession that technological advances may allow for a more environmentally friendly standard than the one approved, reliance on a study that is more than 25 years old is neither a persuasive nor reasonable basis for adopting the standard it approved. The EPA is able neither to offer a reasonable justification for failing to require a stricter standard nor to justify the standard it endorsed.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 28, 2020.