SCOTUS Restricts EPA Authority to Mandate Emissions Reductions

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Regulation

In a recent ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has restricted some of the regulating authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The 6-3 ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency centers on the Major Questions Doctrine. At issue was the Clean Power Plan rule created under the Obama Administration in 2015.  While never implemented, multiple states initiated a challenge to the rule and the authority of EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The ruling has raised concerns from environmental groups regarding EPA authority and the ability to implement regulations pertaining to climate change moving forward.

EPA Authority

Under the Major Questions Doctrine, federal agencies must be able to cite “clear congressional authorization” for any actions taken. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion that a “decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch cited a previous SCOTUS decision, noting that administrative agencies must be able to identify congressional authorization when making “decisions of vast ‘economic and political significance.’”

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said that the decision strips the EPA of necessary powers to respond to climate change concerns. Kagan illustrates her belief that EPA does indeed have congressional authority to develop the Clean Power Plan, in the interest of mitigating climate change.

“Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” Kagan noted. The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decision-maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”

Supporters of the decision, including several lawmakers and multiple state officials, said the ruling will curb EPA authority and help address agency overreach. By referencing the Major Questions Doctrine, the decision has the potential to further limit federal agencies’ ability to regulate.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West