In the wake of illnesses reported by refugees from Hurricane Katrina who were housed temporarily in manufactured housing, Congress in 2010, in the Formaldehyde Standards in Composite Wood Products Act, required EPA to issue rules limiting formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. The Obama EPA took 6 years to issue the final rule, which required compliance with the new emissions limits by December 2017. In September 2017, the Trump EPA issued a rule delaying compliance with the emissions limits until December 2018. The delay rule was challenged by the Sierra Club and the New Orleans-based group A Community Voice. Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled on February 16 that the Trump EPA’s delay rule was unlawful. Sierra Club, et al. v. Pruitt, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (February 16, 2018).
The Court focused on the text of the law, which required compliance with the EPA’s final rule within 180 days of its promulgation. The Court ruled that the Trump EPA’s delay rule “creates inconsistency within the full text of the Act, renders the 180-day compliance deadline superfluous, leads to the absurd result of permitting the perpetual delay of the effectiveness of the Formaldehyde Rule, and fails to satisfy the stated purpose of the Act.” The Court stayed the effect of its invalidation of the delay rule, requiring the parties to suggest to the Court by March 9 how to move forward with compliance with the Obama EPA’s final rule. Because the ruling focused on the unique language of the Formaldehyde Rule, it may not have a significant impact on other lawsuits challenging the Trump EPA’s actions delaying other Obama EPA rules addressing such issues as landfill methane standards and effluent guidelines for coal-fired power plants.
In another interesting aspect of the ruling, the Court held that failure of the Plaintiffs to challenge EPA’s authority during the public comment period of the delay rule did not prevent the Plaintiffs from suing to invalidate the rule. It remains to be seen whether that ruling will have an impact on Administrative Procedure Act proceedings on other current EPA rulemakings in which Obama EPA rules are rolled back or delayed.