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Energy and Environment Monitor

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case Challenging EPA's Failure to Study Employment Effects of Clean Power Plan

January 10, 2018

By: Jennifer L. Hughes

        On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed by Murray Energy Corp. that challenged the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that the Clean Air Act does not authorize lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to consider employment impacts of administering or enforcing the Act.

        In 2015, Murray Energy sued EPA in federal district court in West Virginia. There, Murray argued that in developing and proposing the Clean Power Plan, EPA had failed to comply with Section 321(a) of the Clean Air Act, which requires EPA to

conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement of the Clean Air Act, including where appropriate, investigating threatened plant closures or reductions in employment allegedly resulting from such administration or enforcement.

        EPA argued that it had no enforceable obligation to undertake a review of the employment effects of its programs, claiming that any such review was within its discretion. It also claimed that even if it did have a duty, then a number of reports it had issued in the past effectively discharged that obligation. The district court disagreed. It held that EPA had a mandatory duty and that the reports it produced earlier  did not fulfill that obligation. The district court ordered EPA to submit a plan and schedule for complying with Section 321(a) within two weeks.

        EPA appealed that decision to the Fourth Circuit, which sided with EPA. The appeals court ruled that the Clean Air Act gives EPA considerable discretion regarding the timing and method of complying with Section 321(a), and such discretionary decisions are not reviewable by the courts.

        Murray Energy filed a petition to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday denied that petition. Thus, within the Fourth Circuit at least, the decision stands. No other courts have ruled on this issue.

        Read our previous discussions of this case:

The “Other” Murray Energy Clean Air Act Challenge; Federal Judge Tells EPA It’s Time to Obey the Law; and Fourth Circuit Refuses to Order EPA to Conduct Coal Jobs Analysis: When “Shall” Means “Eh, Maybe”

This article was authored by Jennifer L. Hughes, Jackson Kelly, PLLC.


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