By Mike Stoker
The Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to the Biden administration’s climate change agenda, ruling Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot pass sweeping regulations that could overhaul entire industries without additional congressional approval. This is a HUGE win for limiting how far federal agencies can go through the “rulemaking” process in promulgating regulations that arguably deal with some law passed by Congress.
As the former Southwest Administrator for the US EPA (overseeing 70 million people over 8 time zones), I was directly involved with the drafting the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to replace the Obama’s Clean Power Plan that had been put on hold by the courts prior to President Trump taking office. Upon President Biden taking office, his EPA put the Trump ACE rule on hold and pursued action(s) to reinstate the Obama Clean Power Plan. Today’s decision brings that process to a final end.
Sincer Biden took office, I’ve been speaking out on the legal reasons why the EPA exceeded their legal authority granted by Congress in promulgating the Clean Power Plan. Today the Supreme Court agreed.
The 6-3 decision limits how far the executive branch can go in forcing new environmental regulations on its own.”Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’ But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d),” Chief Justice John Roberts said in the Court’s opinion, referencing Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. “A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”
The Trump EPA, in repealing the Clean Power Plan, took the position that Section 111 only let them determine measures to be implemented at the physical power plants themselves (an “inside-the-fence-line” restriction) and not broadly-applied measures for entire industries. Similarly, West Virginia and other states claimed that Section 111 does not allow the EPA to go so far as to make rules that would completely reshape American electrical grids or force industries to eliminate carbon emissions altogether. West Virginia’s argument is based on the “major questions doctrine,” which says that even though federal agencies generally have broad rule-making power as delegated by Congress through the statutes that create them, when it comes to issues of major economic and political significance to the country those statutes need to have clear language to support the agency’s action. When the Trump EPA repealed the plan in 2019 we (Trump’s EPA) cited the major questions doctrine. The Court today stated, “To overcome that skepticism, the Government must—under the major questions doctrine—point to ‘clear congressional authorization’ to regulate in that manner…” Having failed to do so, the Court struck down the Clean Power Plan.
To review the Supreme Court decision, click on this link: