I have a pretty good idea what happened and why when the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA in that West Virginia case.
But even when I think I understand something I will often find something that clarifies or expands on my understanding of a given subject.
This article from The Atlantic by Georgetown University law professor Liza Heinzerling gives me some additional understanding about why that decision was so important — and what it portends for tackling major problems facing our country:
Like many governmental agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency has an elaborate process for developing important rules. As I saw during the Obama administration, when I headed the EPA office that oversees this process, getting a major rule over the finish line can take years. Almost every step of the way offers obstacles to addressing any serious environmental problem.
This work just got much harder, if not altogether impossible. In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that Congress may not authorize an administrative agency like the EPA to address an issue of great economic and political significance—in the Court’s parlance, a “major question”—unless Congress speaks extremely precisely in doing so. Broad statutory language, written with the aim of empowering an agency to take on new problems in new ways, will no longer suffice.
The Court’s major-questions doctrine will make effective governance of this country even harder than it has long been. Somewhat ironically, the first victim is Congress itself. Congress has long addressed important problems by empowering agencies to regulate based on newly developed scientific and technical information. That is what Congress did in the Clean Air Act and in the public-health and workplace-safety statutes the Court narrowed in the COVID cases. All laws with a similar structure, passed in at least implicit reliance on a different interpretive framework from the one the Court has embraced, are now vulnerable to severe judicial cropping. So while the Court is purporting to hand Congress the baton, in reality it’s creating a major hurdle that will stand in the way of Congress’s work.
You can read the rest of the article here.