The Supreme Court ruled recently in favor of the major coal-producing states while sharply limiting the federal government’s ability to put forth policies that aim to restrict carbon emissions.
The justices concurred with lawyers for West Virginia, saying Congress did not give environmental regulators broad authority to restructure the system for producing power by switching from coal to wind turbines, and solar energy.
In the decision, the court insisted on clear congressional action before approving climate major change regulation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the conservative majority on the court for their decision:
“First on gun safety, then on abortion, and now on the environment — this MAGA, regressive, extremist Supreme Court is intent on setting America back decades, if not centuries,” Schumer said.
But this recent ruling could go much further than the climate change topic.
Legal experts say the decision in West Virginia v. EPA may take away the ability of all federal agencies, not just EPA, to write and enforce their own regulations.
The decision could mean a shift in power with unprecedented consequences for virtually everything agencies within the executive branch do, from the ATF and the FBI to the CDC and homeland security.
For example, last year, the Attorney General signed ATF proposed rule 2021R-08, “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” amending ATF’s regulations to clarify when a rifle is “intended to be fired from the shoulder.”
The proposed rule amends the definition of a “rifle” by adding a sentence at the end of each definition to clarify that the term includes any weapon with a rifled barrel and has an attached “stabilizing brace.”
In April 2022, President Biden and his Deputy Attorney General announced that the U.S. Department of Justice issued a final rule to rein in the proliferation of “ghost guns.” The new rules from the DOJ refer to the 80 percent parts kits, now labeling the kits themselves as firearms.
President Biden held up a Polymer80 80% lower pistol kit in the White House Rose Garden while announcing the new regulations.
The new decision on West Virginia v. EPA could potentially encompass rules like this.
The United States Constitution gives all legislative authority to Congress, while the executive branch’s job is to implement and enforce it.
In his decision for the 6-3 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said Congress never gave the EPA the authority to change the methods a power plant uses—regulations known as “generation shifting” requirements.
Chief Justice Roberts said that forcing a nationwide transition away from coal might be a sensible idea, but the EPA cannot do so without clear authority from Congress.
Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law recently said the decision is a warning to regulatory agencies that they should be wary of using broad new powers from interpreting old laws.
“Finding a dormant regulatory authority in pre-existing statutes is something the court disfavors,” Mr. Adler told the Wallstreet Journal.
Sambhav Sankar, an ex-clerk for Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, said there are two major legal doctrines to consider.
“The broader picture of what may be happening is that the Court is firing a shot across the bow of the regulatory state to say, ‘Stop thinking about new problems or improved solutions to old ones, just think of your job narrowly and imagine yourself back at the time when Congress wrote the enabling statute — even if that was 1970,’” said Sankar.
The first doctrine to consider is the ‘Nondelegation Doctrine,’ which says that Congress cannot ask any federal agency to impose regulations that have the force of the law, as this is the job of congress alone.
The second is the ‘Major Questions Doctrine’ which says that federal agencies are not entitled to deference from the court when they create significant rules which Congress has not approved.
Robert Meyers, a lawyer and former EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, said a Supreme Court decision invoking the ‘Nondelegation’ or ‘Major Questions’ doctrine wouldn’t immediately change the way the federal regulatory system works.
Meyers also said a ruling like this might push Congress to legislate extremely specifically in the future.