Lead Industries Association v. EPA
647 F.2d 1130 (D.C. Cir. 1980)

  • The Clean Air Act required EPA to identify pollutants and then set national ambient air quality standards (NAAQSs) to limit their release.
  • EPA issued a ruling that created a NAAQS for lead.
  • The Lead Industries Association (LIA) objected to the NAAQS and sued to have it overturned.
    • LIA argued that EPA had insufficient evidence to justify setting the NAAQS for lead as low as it had.
      • LIA argued that Congress had only intended the Clean Air Act to protect the public against effects that are known to be clearly harmful to health, and that EPA had established a limit more stringent then Congress contemplated.
    • EPA argued that primary air quality standards should be based on protecting the public from "adverse health effects."
      • EPA argued that the legislation was of a 'precautionary nature' and the standard needed to include a margin of error.
    • The main issue for LIA was that EPA had made some assumptions in developing their standards and at best their limits were a 'scientific guess' about what the proper level of safety should be.
  • The Appellate Court found for EPA.
    • The Appellate Court found that some uncertainty about the health effects of air pollution is inevitable.  However, awaiting certainty will often allow for only reactive, not preventative regulatory action.
    • The Appellate Court found that Congress had directed EPA to allow an adequate margin of safety, and disagreed with LIAs argument that EPA is only authorized to set primary air quality standards which are designed to protect against health effects that are known to be clearly harmful.
  • Basically, the Appellate Court said that EPA can regulate based on the best scientific data available at the time, they do not have to wait until that scientific data is 100% conclusive before they make a ruling.
  • This case was also the leading authority on whether or not to consider things other than public health considerations when setting a NAAQS, but it has since been overruled by Whitman v. American Trucking Associations (531 U.S. 457 (2001))