The Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to the Biden administration’s climate change agenda, ruling Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot pass sweeping regulations that could overhaul entire industries without additional congressional approval.
The 6-3 decision limits how far the executive branch can go in forcing new environmental regulations on its own.
“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 said 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.”
The question of how much power the EPA has was based on a provision in Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which grants the EPA power to set “standards of performance” for existing sources of air pollutants as long as they take into account cost, energy requirements, and non-air health and environmental impacts.
Similarly, West Virginia and other states claimed that Section 111 does not allow the EPA to go so far as to make rules that would completely reshape American electrical grids or force industries to eliminate carbon emissions altogether.
West Virginia’s argument is based on the “major questions doctrine,” which says that even though federal agencies generally have broad rule-making power as delegated by Congress through the statutes that create them, when it comes to issues of major economic and political significance to the country those statutes need to have clear language to support the agency’s action.
Without clear language, they would need new legislation that specifically grants them the power to carry out their actions.