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Supreme Court limits EPA authority to set climate standards for power plants

  • July 04, 2022

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the case, known as West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency. His opinion was joined by the court’s other five conservative members.

The decision is the first time a majority opinion explicitly cited the so-called “major questions doctrine” to justify a ruling. That controversial doctrine holds that with issues of major national significance, a regulatory agency must have clear statutory authorization from Congress to take certain actions and not rely on its general agency authority.

Roberts wrote, “There is little reason to think Congress assigned such decisions” about the regulations in question to the EPA, despite the agency’s belief that “Congress implicitly tasked it, and it alone, with balancing the many vital considerations of national policy implicated in deciding how Americans will get their energy.”

“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.'” Roberts wrote. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

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

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent, which was joined by the court’s two other liberals. “Today, the Court strips the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the power Congress gave it to respond to ‘the most pressing environmental challenge of our time,'” Kagan wrote in the dissent.

“The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening,” Kagan wrote. She also said, “The majority claims it is just following precedent, but that is not so. The Court has never even used the term ‘major questions doctrine’ before.”

A White House spokesperson on Thursday said the EPA ruling was “another devastating decision from the Court that aims to take our country backwards.”

“President Biden will not relent in using the authorities that he has under law to protect public health and tackle the climate change crisis,” the spokesperson said. “Our lawyers will study the ruling carefully and we will find ways to move forward under federal law.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the ruling “adds to a number of dangerously outrageous decisions that have rightly tarnished the public’s confidence in the Court.”

“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. “The Republican-appointed majority of the MAGA Court is pushing the country back to a time when [robber] barons and corporate elites have complete power and average citizens have no say.”

Schumer was referring to two of the court’s rulings last week, one of which undid the nearly half-century-old federal right to abortion, the other invalidating some of New York’s restrictions on carry permits for handguns.

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