SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Dump truck owners failed to bring a proper legal challenge against California regulations to reduce diesel emissions, a federal judge ruled.
The California Air Resources Board, or CARB, approved the Truck and Bus Regulation on December 12, 2008, as part of California's state implementation plan to meet national air quality standards set by the Clean Air Act.
The regulation, seeks to "reduce emissions of diesel particulate matter (PM), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and other criteria pollutants, and greenhouse gases from in-use diesel-fueled vehicles."
Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Melissa Lin Perrella said in a statement the regulation specifically targets "aging diesel trucks and buses that operate in California by requiring exhaust and vehicle retrofits and accelerated vehicle turnover."
In February 2011, the California Dump Truck Owners Association (CDTOA) filed suit, claiming pre-emption under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAA). Among other things, this law prevents states from enacting laws or regulations affecting "price, route, or service of any motor carrier."
But the Air Resources Board insisted that the Truck and Bus Regulation "falls within the safety exception to the preemption provision," referring to the FAAA.
In support of the board, the NRDC argued that the pre-emption argument could succeed only if Congress meant for the FAAA to repeal "certain provisions" of the Clean Air Act. Congress had no such intent, the group claimed.
After the regulation took effect in January 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency approved it on April 4, 2012, as part of California's state implementation plan, or SIP.
Chief U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. found Wednesday that the District Court lacks jurisdiction in the case because it challenges a final EPA action, and such challenges must go before appellate courts.
He rejected the truck group's claim that its lawsuit challenges only the Truck and Bus Regulation, not the entire implementation plan, making the EPA "of no consequence to the instant litigation."
"While plaintiff is technically correct that its single preemption claim does not directly challenge any 'final action' by the EPA, plaintiff ignores the complex interrelationship between the federal and state laws designed to control air pollution," England wrote.
A state's implementation plan becomes federal law once the EPA signs it, according to the ruling. Thus, a violation of any regulation in the plan constitutes a violation of both state and federal law.
"Therefore, CDTOA's attempt to present California's Truck and Bus Regulation as a rule of law totally distinct and separate from California's SIP incorporating the Regulation is not supported by either statutory authority or judicial precedents," England wrote.
Though he did not think that the truck owners secretly planned to challenge a final EPA decision with their suit, Englan said nevertheless that the plan's "enforceability directly depends on the validity of the underlying state programs of air pollution control."
As such, "CDTOA's challenge to the regulation contains an implicit attack on the validity of California's SIP," the ruling states.
"Were this Court to decide that the Truck and Bus Regulation is preempted by the FAAA, such a decision would undermine the validity of EPA's final action and would amount to an implicit repeal of a portion of the EPA-approved SIP," England added. "Proceeding with this action would also undercut the special judicial review process created by Congress for challenging federally-approved SIP measures and could result in potentially inconsistent or redundant interpretations of federal law by different courts and EPA. If CDTOA disagrees with a state regulation incorporated into an EPA-approved SIP it 'must follow appropriate federal procedures to revise it.' Because plaintiff's instant challenge necessarily implicates the EPA final action approving the Truck and Bus Regulation as part of California's SIP, it cannot be litigated in this court."
The California Dump Truck Owners Association originally claimed that many of its roughly 1,000 members could not afford to retrofit their diesel trucks under Truck and Bus Regulation requirements. It also claimed the regulation would make their "vehicles less efficient, more prone to breakdowns, and harder to resell," and cause the companies to lose business.
England disagreed here, too. "The court fails to see how a favorable judgment will provide any relief for plaintiff's alleged injuries in light of the fact that the Regulation will remain enforceable by EPA and the public as part of the EPA-approved SIP until EPA approves a SIP revision," he wrote.
Even if the District Court could hear the case, the truck owners still could not obtain complete relief because they did not name the EPA as a defendant, even though it "is a necessary and indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19," the judge added.
England said the EPA cannot be joined as a party, either, because doing so would automatically "deprive this court of subject-matter jurisdiction over this action."
"After assessing the situation in realistic and practical terms, the court finds that this action cannot proceed in EPA's absence and should be dismissed," the ruling states.
England dismissed the case without prejudice. He also denied the cross-motions for summary judgment as moot, and ordered the case closed.
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