West Virginia v. EPA Blocks Key Tool to Fight Climate Change; Regulators Should Not Be Deterred

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court this morning handed down a decision in West Virginia v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, issued the following statement: 

“Limiting the tools available to the EPA under the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a blow to the vital goal of addressing the climate crisis.

“The decision holds that the EPA can’t take a systemic approach when determining the best system for reducing emissions. Instead, under the specific statutory section at issue in the case, the court says the EPA is limited to putting in place technological requirements that achieve the best emissions reductions that a source is capable of achieving. 

“The case also is important because of the court majority’s approach to judicial review of agency actions. The decision defines a ‘major questions doctrine’ that has not previously been part of statutory interpretation, and which the court described as applying when an agency asserts ‘highly consequential power beyond what Congress could reasonably be understood to have granted.’

“While there are good reasons to fear that industry will try to use this doctrine to undermine agencies’ ability to adopt strong public health, safety, consumer, and environmental protections, the court specifies that it is only to be applied in ‘extraordinary cases.’ 

”Of course, regulatory agencies always should ensure that their actions are rooted in statutory authority, but they should not in any way be deterred from doing their job because of this decision. And courts should take care not to misconstrue this doctrine to block regulatory action.”