PSD Review is a Pre-construction Requirement Not Subject to a Continuing Violation Theory

Last week, Judge John Darrah handed the government a defeat in a PSD/NSR enforcement action, when he ruled that the requirement to obtain permits under the PSD program prior to making major modifications was solely a pre-construction obligation and did not constitute a continuing violation. 

United States v. Midwest Generation was one of the recent wave of government PSD/NSR actions, filed last summer. The problem with the government’s case was that Midwest Generation had purchased the six facilities at issue in the case from Commonwealth Edison in 1999 and all of the alleged changes but one were made prior to the purchase.

Although the court thoroughly reviewed the case law – and found it generally supportive of its conclusion – its major focus was on a plain reading of the statutory language (and we know how much this Supreme Court likes plain readings). The relevant statute provision provides that:

No major emitting facility … may be constructed in any area to which this part applies unless … a Permit has been issued…. 

To Judge Darrah,

the plain meaning of the statute’s introductory language … thus prohibits the construction of a “major emitting facility’ unless [the statutory requirements] are met…. On its face, nothing in § 7475 prohibits the subsequent operation of such a facility without a permit. (Emphasis in original.)

There are other counts in the government’s complaint, including claims of operating permit violations. However, the decision on the NSR/PSD claims is quite significant. The case does not simply dismiss, as some other decisions have done, penalty claims. This is not a statute of limitations decision (though the Judge did also follow most other cases in dismissing, on statute of limitations grounds, the penalty claims with respect to the one alleged modification that occurred after Midwest Generation bought the facilities). As Judge Darrah made clear, the government is not entitled to “any relief on those claims – injunctive or otherwise.” (Emphasis in original.)

Score one of generators – particularly merchant generators who bought facilities after modifications had already been made.

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