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U.S. Supreme Court

General Motors Corp. v. United States, 496 U.S. 530 (1990)

General Motors Corp. v. United States

No. 89-369

Argued March 21, 1990

Decided June 14, 1990

496 U.S. 530


The Clean Air Act was amended in 1970 to deal with a perceived national air pollution emergency. The amendments required that the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgate national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) within 30 days, and that each State thereafter submit a state implementation plan (SIP) within nine months. Section 110(a)(2) of the Act required the Administrator to approve a SIP within four months of its submission if the SIP met various substantive requirements. Section 110(a)(3) authorizes a State to propose a SIP revision, and requires the Administrator to approve that revision if he determines, among other things, that it "meets the requirements of [§ 110(a)(2)]." In 1980, EPA approved Massachusetts' proposed SIP governing certain emissions from automobile painting operations. The SIP permitted petitioner General Motors Corporation (GMC) -- whose automobile plant's painting operation is a source of ozone -- to meet emissions limits in stages, but required full compliance by December 31, 1985. In June, 1985, GMC sought an extension of that deadline until summer, 1987. Massachusetts approved the revision and submitted it to EPA on the day before the existing SIP's deadline, but EPA did not reject it until September, 1988. In the meantime, EPA sent GMC a notice of violation of the existing SIP and filed an enforcement action in the District Court. In May, 1988, the District Court entered summary judgment for GMC, holding that § 110(a)(3) imposed a 4-month time limit on EPA review of a SIP revision, and that EPA was therefore barred from enforcing the existing SIP from the end of the 4-month period until it finally acted on the revision. Although agreeing that the Act imposed a 4-month deadline, the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the failure to meet that deadline did not preclude EPA from enforcing the existing SIP.


1. EPA is not required to act on a proposed SIP revision within four months. Since § 110(a)(2)'s 4-month requirement was enacted as one of a series of deadlines designed to assure quick implementation of pollution control requirements, that section refers only to the action required on the original SIP, and not to a revision. Moreover, in the absence of an express requirement that the Administrator process a proposed revision within four months, this Court is not free to read such a

Page 496 U. S. 531

limitation into § 110(a)(3). That section incorporates only the substantive, but not the procedural, requirements of § 110(a)(2). Nor does § 110(g) -- which authorizes a State Governor, in certain circumstances, temporarily to suspend a SIP for which the State has submitted a proposed revision when the Administrator has not taken action "within the required four-month period" -- impose a 4-month limitation on EPA. That section does not require the Administrator to do anything, and its incorporation of the mistaken presupposition that some "four-month period" is "required" does not impose a general requirement on EPA. Pp. 496 U. S. 536-539.

2. Although subject to the Administrative Procedure Act's requirement that agencies conclude matters "within a reasonable time," EPA is not barred from bringing suit to enforce an existing SIP if it unreasonably delays action on a proposed revision. This Court will not infer an enforcement bar in the absence of a specific provision in the Clean Air Act suggesting that Congress intended to create one. In fact, that Act plainly states that EPA may bring an enforcement action whenever a person is in violation of any "applicable implementation plan" requirement, § 113(b)(2), and there is little doubt that the existing SIP remains the "applicable implementation plan" even after the State has submitted a proposed revision. See, e.g., Train v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 421 U. S. 60, 421 U. S. 92. It is significant that Congress explicitly enacted an enforcement bar elsewhere in the Act, see § 113(d)(10), but failed to do so in the section at issue, and that it provided other, less drastic, remedies when EPA delays action on a SIP revision, see §§ 304(a)(2), 113(b). Pp. 496 U. S. 539-542.

876 F.2d 1060, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 496 U. S. 532

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