Landmark ruling: EPA does not have unlimited authority to regulate emissions of energy industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Supreme Court dealt an intense blow to the Biden administration’s climate agenda on Thursday, ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have broad authority to regulate entire industries without congressional approval. 

The 6-3 decision in West Virginia et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency holds that the EPA is limited in how far its bureaucratic environmental regulations can go without first receiving approval from America’s elected federal representatives.

“Today we stopped the Biden administration from implementing its Green New Deal without approval from the people’s elected representatives in Congress,” said Derek Schmidt, attorney general for the state of Kansas, which joined West Virginia in the lawsuit. “Today’s ruling confirms that unelected Washington bureaucrats cannot write federal law to fit their preferences for energy production and the American economy without congressional authority.

“More broadly, this ruling is a victory for basic principles of democratic self-government and may one day be seen as a turning point in the decades-long fight to regain control over the ever-expanding federal bureaucracy.” 

The ruling comes as the administration was gearing up to reveal new environmental regulations for the energy industry as part of its Green New Deal.

“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,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d).

“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

Many consider this ruling to be a solidifying force for separation of powers, and believe it sets a precedent to keep federal bureaucracies at bay – taking away their power to essentially enact whichever policies they choose without the oversight of Congress. 

In a pre-ruling article June 12 predicting the case “could defang Washington,” Politico noted that a decision against EPA might also help rein in federal agency regulations on such matters as “drug pricing and financial regulations to net neutrality.”

“Congress did not – and, under our Constitution, cannot – grant unelected administrative officials at EPA legislative power to creatively reimagine energy policy for the entire country,” Americans for Prosperity wrote in a legal brief filed in the EPA case

The case came down to how much regulatory power the EPA was granted from Congress when it passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 – specifically, in Section 111 of the act. The section grants the EPA authority to set “standards of performance” for existing sources of air pollutants, as long as it considers “cost, non-air impacts and energy requirements.”

In its repeal of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which was passed under the Clean Air Act, the Trump administration’s EPA held that Section 111 only allowed the agency to determine regulations at the physical locations of power plants, and did not allow blanket measures for entire industries.

That’s the stance that delivered West Virginia and accompanying states a win on Thursday, establishing that Section 111 of the Clean Air Act “does not clearly give EPA authority to upend the power industry,” and that broad-ranging regulations with such magnitude must be approved by Congress. 

West Virginia’s argument was based on the “major rules doctrine,” which says a federal agency does not have the ability to authoritatively determine a measure with major economic and political significance “if its underlying statutory authority does not clearly permit or require it to do so,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

The EPA ruling essentially says there is no clear language giving the EPA authority to issue industry-wide environmental regulations with such high magnitude. In order for the EPA to have the ability to do so, specific language granting that authority must be established and passed by Congress.

“Huge victory against federal overreach and the excesses of the administrative state,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said on Facebook. “This is a HUGE win for West Virginia, our energy jobs and those who care about maintaining separation of powers in our nation.”

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