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Creosote Council v. Johnson

May 15, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge


Plaintiffs complain that the EPA unlawfully changed its interpretation of regulations governing the Toxic Release Inventory reporting program under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act ("EPCRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 11001 et seq., in violation the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 553(c), and seek a preliminary injunction relieving them from compliance with the Agency's new interpretation. For the reasons explained below, the motion for preliminary injunction [Dkt. 7] will be granted.


Under EPCRA, owners and operators of certain facilities are required to submit toxic chemical release reports ("TRI reports") for listed chemicals "manufactured, processed or otherwise used" above specified threshold levels. 42 U.S.C. § 11023(a). The plaintiffs in this case are a wood processor and wood trade associations whose members use toxic chemicals (such as creosote and benzoperylene) above threshold levels in manufacturing treated wood and are required to file TRI reports.

Treated wood is wood that has been impregnated with chemical preservatives, either through pressure or thermal treatment. Plaintiffs have submitted an affidavit describing the treatment process in detail, [Dkt. 7, Ex. 1], but it is not necessary to rehearse those facts here, because this case only concerns the finished product, wood that has been fully treated: nothing further will be done to it; it has been placed in the manufacturer's on-site storage yard, from which it will eventually be shipped to customers. Plaintiffs and their members have not previously reported emissions from such treated wood. Following inspections in 2005 and 2006, the EPA notified plaintiff Koppers, Inc., that its failure to include storage yard emissions in its TRI reports violated Section 313 of EPCRA. [Dkt. 7, Ex. 8]. In a letter dated October 15, 2007, the director of EPA's TRI Program, Michael Petruska, stated to the Treated Wood Coalition that stored wood was not exempt from Section 313 reporting under the so-called "articles exemption" set out at 40 C.F.R. § 372.38(b). [Dkt. 7, Ex. 9]. In this suit, plaintiffs assert that the EPA previously gave the "articles exemption" a definitive interpretation, and that the October 15, 2007, letter altered that interpretation. They argue that the new interpretation is unlawfully imposed because of EPA's failure to submit it to APA notice and comment rulemaking. They seek a preliminary injunction relieving them from reporting storage yard emissions in their 2007 TRI reports.


A. Standards of Review

"To demonstrate entitlement to a preliminary injunction, a litigant must show '1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, 2) that it would suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not granted, 3) that an injunction would not substantially injure other interested parties, and 4) that the public interest would be furthered by the injunction.'" Mova Pharm. Corp. v. Shalala, 140 F.3d 1060, 1066 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (quoting Cityfed Financial Corp. v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 58 F.3d 738, 746 (D.C. Cir. 1995)).

In order for plaintiffs to demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on their notice and comment claim, they must show that the EPA once gave the regulations in question a "definitive interpretation, and later significantly revised that interpretation." Alaska Prof'l Hunters Ass'n v. Federal Aviation Admin., 177 F.3d 1030, 1034 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Paralyzed Veterans of Am. v. D.C. Arena L.P., 117 F.3d 579, 586 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ("Once an agency gives its regulation an interpretation, it can only change that interpretation as it would formally modify the regulation itself: through the process of notice and comment rulemaking.").

B. Regulatory Context

40 C.F.R. § 372.38 exempts "articles" from certain EPCRA reporting requirements. "Article" is a defined term:

Article means a manufactured item: (1) which is formed to a specific shape or design during manufacture; (2) which has end use functions dependent in whole or in part upon its shape or design during end use; and (3) which does not release a toxic chemical under normal conditions of processing or use of that item at the facility or establishment.

40 C.F.R. § 372.3(b). Plaintiffs contend that two documents gave a definitive interpretation to the articles exemption. The first was a 1988 letter from EPA official Charles Elkins to the Chemical Manufacturers Association concerning the applicability of the articles exemption to PVC film. The relevant portion of the letter states that:

[EPA] notes the distinction between continuous low-level releases that occur over the life of the product from those releases that are the direct result of processing and use of the film. [EPA] recognizes that the first type of release is analogous to weathering or natural deterioration of an article and agrees that such releases should not be considered releases that negate the article exemption. [EPA] also agrees that the normal low-level migration ...

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