SCOTUS curbs EPA: Reaction

Lawmakers and environmental advocates react in opposition to the Supreme Court's decision in West Virginia vs. EPA—with implications for the 15,000 federal employees and their work there, as well as hundreds of thousands more carrying out regulatory missions at other departments and agencies.

A number of lawmakers and advocacy groups responded to the Supreme Court’s curbs on EPA’s power—at least in theory—by way of its June 30 decision neutering the agency’s prototyped but never-effected Clean Power Plan in the West Virginia vs. EPA case.

Normally, Congress passes laws governing regulatory matters effected by agencies such as the EPA, but such agencies then develop the detailed science and regulatory steps needed to carry out the laws.

In the West Virginia case, however, the Supreme Court invoked an infrequently used legal concept known as major cases doctrine—the idea that very specific congressional provisions must be passed for agencies to develop and carry out policies like the Clean Power Plan that may cause major financial or political impacts.

One major nonprofit group that lobbies for stricter emissions controls—the Clean Air Task Force—summarized the issue and sharply expressed its worries over the Court’s employment of the doctrine to curb EPA’s authority. CATF detected in the decision the Court’s possible intent to loosen additional federal regulatory structures. 

“Congress writes laws addressing major policy questions, and then historically has relied on the technical experts at agencies to apply the law to evolving problems and solutions,” CATF noted.  “An agency acting within its expertise and authority has been deferred to by the Court when it crafts rules under such general direction from Congress. That framework has been in flux recently, and West Virginia further upsets that balance.”

A group of lawmakers with environmental concerns also panned the decision.

“This decision takes off the table one of the EPA’s most effective, efficient, and affordable tools to decrease our power sector’s emissions,” the group said in a joint statement. “Even more concerning is that the Court has opened the door for further striking down of regulatory actions based on the precedent established today. After today, no climate regulation is safe from this radical Court.”

The group—the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC)—includes Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.)

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