Whitman v. American Trucking Associations
531 U.S. 457 (2001)

  • EPA conducted a review of its national ambient air quality standards (NAAQSs) as they were required to do under the Clean Air Act 109(d).
    • The review showed that public health could be improved by lowering emissions standards for ozone and particulates (PM).
  • EPA lowered the NAAQSs. They were sued by a variety of industry groups.
    • The industry groups argued that EPA had erred when they modified the NAAQSs without taking into account the costs of compliance.
      • According to the industry groups, it was too expensive to comply with the new NAAQSs.
      • The industry groups argued that costs must be taken into account, otherwise, the logical level to set the NAAQSs was zero, which is absolutely safe.
  • The Appellate Court found for the industry groups. EPA appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that EPA was not required to take costs of compliance into account when setting or modifying a NAAQS.
    • However, the Court found that EPA had violated the non-delegation doctrine, which prevented delegating legislative authority to the executive branch because EPA had failed to identify how the criteria would be combined to reach a judgment as to why a specific level was chosen as the NAAQS.
      • Basically, the Court was saying that EPA needed to announce a formula for combining all the factors they used to set the NAAQS.
  • The US Supreme Court partially affirmed and partially reversed the Appellate Court and said that implementation costs should not be considered in setting NAAQSs.
    • The US Supreme Court looked to 109(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act and felt that it pretty clearly did not permit the EPA to consider costs in setting the standard.
      • 109(b)(1) instructs the EPA to set primary air quality standards "the attainment and maintenance of which are request to protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety."
      • In other parts of the Clean Air Act, EPA is specifically ordered to consider costs, but costs are not mentioned in 109(b)(1).
    • The US Supreme Court found that, although 109(b)(1) did provide EPA with a certain amount of discretion in setting standards, it was well within the outer limits of nondelegation precedents.
      • The Court found that the amount of discretion that was permissible was inversely proportional to the scope of power conferred.
        • Administrative agencies have less discretion when determining broad sweeping regulatory schemes then they do when making minor regulations that only target a small number of people.
  • Basically, this case established that, in order to conform to the Nondelegation Doctrine, when conferring decisionmaking authority upon agencies, Congress must lay down an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to act is directed to conform.
    • Aka the Intelligble Principle Test.