Deference Due to EPA When Determining Climate Priorities, Agency Tells D.C. Circuit

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By Andrew Childers  

Dec. 26 --The Environmental Protection Agency offered a “thoughtful and well-reasoned explanation” when it denied environmental groups' petition to determine whether methane from coal mines should be regulated, the agency said in a brief (WildEarth Guardians v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 13-1212, brief filed 12/24/13).

The EPA has broad authority to determine how to allocate finite resources and how to prioritize regulatory actions, the agency told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a brief filed Dec. 24.

The EPA chose to deny WildEarth Guardians and other environmental groups' petition to undertake the endangerment finding process for methane emissions from coal mines because it would pull resources away from more pressing priorities, the agency said.

The EPA has said repeatedly that it wants to start regulating emissions from the largest sources of greenhouse gases, such as power plants.

“EPA may reasonably consider its capacity to undertake a requested regulatory action and defer taking the action at this time because of resource constraints--especially where, as here, Congress afforded the agency such great discretion over the timing of its revision of the list of stationary source categories,” The EPA said.

Deferring to the EPA's judgment on how to allocate its resources is “simply good sense,” the agency said.

WildEarth Guardians sued the EPA in October after the agency denied environmental groups' petition to make an endangerment finding for coal mines and to establish new source performance standards for methane emissions under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. The EPA denied that request, citing a lack of resources.

An endangerment finding would require the EPA to issue new source performance standards for methane emissions from coal mines.

The environmental group argued in its brief to the court that the EPA failed to offer a justifiable scientific or policy reason why it could not respond to the petition or subsequently pursue new source performance standards for methane emissions from coal mines .

Massachusetts Decision Disputed.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, WildEarth Guardians has argued that the EPA was obligated to conduct the technical review necessary to determine whether regulating methane emissions from coal mines would be warranted (Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497, 63 ERC 2057 (2007)).

In that 2007 decision, the Supreme Court held that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles in response to a petition from states and environmental groups.

The EPA argued that the Supreme Court's decision does not compel the agency to undertake the endangerment finding for coal mines. The EPA had not regulated greenhouse gases such as methane prior to the Massachusetts decision. Now, the agency said it is pursuing various climate change regulations and is due deference to determine how best to prioritize its resources.

“Put simply, Massachusetts did not address the circumstances here--where EPA is diligently implementing its varied obligations under the relevant statutory provision but cannot, because of resource limitations, undertake immediately the additional regulatory action requested by petitioner without sacrifice to its ongoing, higher-priority activities,” the EPA said.

Now that the agency has begun regulating greenhouse gases, the EPA is due deference as it determines which regulations are priorities, the agency said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at