Deference To The Agency

Although many cases deal with administrative law and the role of agencies, the Chevron U.S.A. Inc., v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (467 U.S. 837 [1984]) case readily demonstrates how courts should review an appeal from an agency action.

Because courts frequently lack the expertise to make technical decisions associated with environmental issues, they often show deference to agencies. If an agency presents a justifiable basis for its decisions, a court frequently relies on the agency's expertise. In the Chevron case, the Supreme Court reviewed the EPA's interpretation and administration of the Clean Air Act. The Court was faced with the issue of what rules of interpretation to apply in considering whether the EPA was justified in defining a Clean Air Act term: stationary source.

The Chevron case establishes the procedures for a court to follow in reviewing an agency's interpretation of the statutes it administers. First, a court must ask: "has

8. The standard of review of factual issues in adjudications is the substantial evidence test. This standard requires a reviewing court to uphold the decision of a lower court unless the reviewing court can find no substantial evidence in the record to support the holding.

9. See also Levin. 1990. Understanding unreviewability in administrative law. Minn. L.R. 74:689.

Congress spoken to the issue explicitly (Chevron U.S.A. Inc., v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 842). In other words, does the language in the statute discuss the issue? If it does not, but rather "the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency's [interpretation] is based on a permissible construction of the statute" (Id.). The court noted that the agency's interpretation did not have to be the only interpretation, or even one which the court would have adopted. Rather, an agency only has to provide a "permissible construction of the statute." (Id. at 843).

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