United States of America
Permits, Standing, Air pollution, Injunctive Relief, Inspections, Criminal, Remedies, Civil, Jurisdiction, Liability
The State of Ohio, pursuant to legislation passed by its General Assembly and signed by its Governor, has chosen no longer to administer a particular federal regulation promulgated under the Clean Air Act. The plaintiffs brought this lawsuit to compel the State to administer the federal regulation. As authority for the suit, the plaintiffs invoke the Clean Air Act’s citizen-suit provision. The State contends that the suit is not authorized by that provision. The district court agreed with the State’s contention, but felt bound to rule otherwise in light of a case decided in 1980 by this court, U.S. EPA v. Ohio Dept. of Highway Safety, 635 F.2d 1195 (6th Cir. 1980), which interpreted the same language in another provision and found standing to sue regulators for their regulatory decisions. The district court therefore entered an injunction expressly ordering the State to administer the federal rule. On appeal, the Ohio EPA argued the “citizen suit” provision only permits citizens to enforce the substantive provisions of the law against regulated parties. The panel agreed with the Ohio EPA’s interpretation and criticized Highway Safety for failing to analyze the text, structure, and legislative history of the Clean Air Act. Holding that citizens could not sue regulators as regulators, it emphatically declared that Highway Safety is no longer good law because of intervening Supreme Court decisions. It also encouraged the U.S. EPA to engage states directly to resolve these types of issues in the future. The Court concluded, based upon intervening Supreme Court precedent and the text and structure of the Clean Air Act itself, that the Act’s citizen-suit provision does not authorize this lawsuit. It therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint.