Statutory Complexity Disguises Agency Capture in Citizens Coal Council v. EPA

Mullen, Reid
August 2007
Ecology Law Quarterly;2007, Vol. 34 Issue 3, p927
Academic Journal
In Citizens Coal Council v. EPA, an en banc panel for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considered a challenge to EPA regulations promulgated pursuant to the Clean Water Act (CWA). The EPA promulgated the regulations in an attempt to incentivize coal companies to remine once abandoned mine sites. Petitioners, two nonprofit environmental organizations, claimed that the regulations violated the Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedure Act by allowing coal companies to remine without adhering to any enforceable pollution limitations. The EPA countered that more remining would improve water quality at abandoned sites. The Sixth Circuit rejected Petitioners' claims, finding that the EPA's regulations were reasonably consistent with the CWA's goal of restoring the integrity of the nation's waters. In so holding, the court struggled to understand the meaning of the CWA's complex procedural and technical language, and allowed the EPA to justify the rule based on the CWA's broad statement of purpose. Such superficial judicial review sets a dangerous precedent in environmental law, because it exacerbates the risk of agency capture. A captured agency promulgates regulations that benefit industry, not the environment. Without the judiciary acting as a meaningful check against agency capture, the public loses a valuable tool in the fight against major industrial polluters like the domestic coal industry. Citizens Coal Council therefore stands as a cautionary tale, a warning sign that the judiciary may be unable to identify agency capture where the regulations at issue are promulgated pursuant to a complex statute like the Clean Water Act.


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