Union Electric Company v. EPA
427 U.S. 246 (1976)

  • Pursuant to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, EPA had issued a national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) that required substantial reductions in SO2 emissions.
    • Under Clean Air Act 110, when a NAAQS is approved, the States are required to submit State Implementation Plans (SIPs) detailing how they will comply with the new NAAQS.
  • Missouri submitted a SIP, which was approved by EPA. Union Electric sued to stop the SIP.
    • Union Electric argued that EPA should not have approved the SIP because it required electric utilities to meet a technologically impossible standard.
    • EPA argued that they had no power to reject a SIP on economic or technological feasibility grounds.
  • The US Supreme Court found for EPA.
    • The US Supreme Court found that when Congress passed the Clean Air Act, they did not intend for the EPA to consider economic or technological feasibility grounds.
      • In fact, the NAAQSs are designed to force the development of new technologies.
      • See 110(a)(2).
    • "The State has virtually absolute power in allocating emission limitations so long as the national standards are met."
      • So basically, the Court said that if the State government wants to make an impossible standard and ends up losing the entire industry because no one can meet the standard, that's their problem, and the EPA can't tell them no.
        • In fact, 110 specifically limits the reasons EPA can decline to approve a SIP, so even if EPA wanted to reject it due to costs, they couldn't.
        • Under 123, EPA does impose some limitations on the kind of controls that a State can employ (mostly involving ways to cheat and get around the regulations).
  • After this case was decided, Union Electric miraculously found some way to meet the new standard without going out of business.