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
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
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
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
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
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.