The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have broad regulatory power under the Clean Air Act of 1970 over the energy industry. The court said that Congress must explicitly grant powers to executive agencies, effectively stripping the EPA’s power to regulate emissions.
Richard Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard, spoke about the significance of this ruling, saying to the New York Times: “At a time when the court knows that Congress is effectively dysfunctional, the court threatens to upend the national government’s ability to safeguard the public health and welfare.” He also commented: "This is the equivalent of an earthquake... for those who care deeply about the climate issue."
The court’s three liberal judges dissented, arguing that the regulations were authorized by the Clean Air Act, which has congressional approval, and that the conservative majority was inserting its own policymaking in lieu of Congress’s.
“Congress  gives an expert agency the power to address issues — even significant ones — as and when they arise,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in favor of the EPA, emphasizing that the Environmental Protection Agency is best suited and specifically designed for tackling the climate crisis.
The EPA's regulatory authority was especially necessary for Biden's plan to combat climate change. The EPA no longer has the ability to institute more ambitious emission-reduction plans that affect entire industries. Instead, these much come from the gridlocked Congress. President Biden has already directed his legal team to look for other ways to combat emissions.
The case, West Virginia v. EPA, challenged the EPA’s broad regulatory power over the energy industry. The plaintiffs, namely West Virginia, asked the court if Congress had to “speak with particular clarity” when giving authorization to executive agencies.
However, what’s unusual about this case is that the plaintiffs were not challenging specific regulation, rather a general regulatory plan and power. The Supreme Court does not typically grant review in such cases. Justice Kagan points to the court's acceptance of the case as evidence that it "could not wait... to constrain EPA's efforts to address climate change."