De Novo Review For Steel Company’s Appeal Of Pollution Control Board Ruling

The Illinois Environmental Agency awarded a pollution discharge license to U.S. Steel Corporation. American Bottom Conservancy filed an objection to the award to the Illinois Pollution Control Board. American Bottom objected because the Agency did not hold a public hearing concerning the issuance of the license.

The Illinois Pollution Control Board agreed with American Bottom, and invalidated the license. U.S. Steel appealed the Board’s decision. The parties argued about the proper standard of review by the appellate court and by the Pollution Control Board. Here’s how the Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court framed the issue: “The issue presented to us for our review is whether the Board applied the correct standard of review in reviewing the Agency’s decision not to hold a public hearing on the proposed permit.”

U.S. Steel argued for de novo review, stating that only a question of law was before the court. But the Pollution Board argued for a more deferential manifest-weight-of-the-evidence standard of review. The appellate court agreed with U.S. Steel. “The only issue before us on appeal is whether the Board erred as a matter of law in applying the incorrect standard of review in deciding that the Agency erred in failing to hold a public hearing. This presents a question of law, which we review de novo.”

In the end, the appellate court vacated the Board’s decision to invalidate the license. This opinion contains a good discussion of when the various standards of review should be applied. Read the whole case, United States Steel v. Illinois Pollution Control Board, No. 5-07-0285 (7/22/08), by clicking here.