As regular readers of this blog know, we have been keeping tabs on the Supreme Court’s review of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case about how executive agencies can interpret the legislation authorizing their activities. Today, the Supreme Court issued its opinion on the matter, finding that the “big issues” doctrine prevents the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to force energy producers to change the type of production of energy they use.
Under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA determines power generation emission limits with which states must comply. Prior to 2015, the EPA had always set these limits based on cleaner use of existing energy sources. In the EPA’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, however, it determined that the best emission reduction system (or “BSER”) for existing coal and natural gas power plants involved a “generational shift,” that is, that is, a shift from higher emissions to lower emissions. energy producers transmitters.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act does not grant the EPA the authority to design emissions caps based on such generational shifting. Restructuring the country’s overall power generation mix, he held, was not BSER within the meaning of Section 111.
The Court relied on the “major issues” doctrine to support its decision. This doctrine requires an agency to identify “clear congressional authorization” for its actions. The Court found that the Clean Air Act contained no such authorization and that the EPA instead relied on “the vague language of a long-standing, but rarely used, statute designed to fill in the gaps” to create a regulatory program that Congress itself had refused to enact.
This EPA’s take on its authority was not only unprecedented, the court found, but also fundamentally overhauled the Clean Air Act, transforming it from one type of regulatory regime into an entirely different type. In EPA’s view of Section 111(d), the Court observed that Congress has implicitly tasked it, and it alone, with balancing the many vital national policy considerations involved in basic regulation. of how Americans get their energy. The Supreme Court disagreed with this view and held that the Clean Power Plan exceeded the authority of the EPA.
At the end of the day, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency limits the ability of executive agencies to read into an ambiguous statutory text “the delegation claimed to be hiding there”. He called the EPA’s generational shift interpretation “extraordinary” and that claims of “extravagant statutory power over the national economy” should be met with “skepticism.” The Court held that the major issues doctrine applies where, as here, “the agencies claim highly consequential power beyond what Congress could reasonably be expected to have granted.
As we noted in our previous analysis of this issue, the Court’s use of the major issues doctrine to decide the case will likely affect the scope of regulation granted to many other federal agencies. This notice severely limits the ability of these agencies to make independent decisions about regulatory activity whether that activity may have a major economic impact or some other “extraordinary” impact. This will allow businesses and investors to operate with more certainty within the existing regulatory environment, which will likely benefit the economy, but at the cost of limiting the ability of federal agencies to regulate activity without specific authorization from Congress. .