GOP Asks the Supes to Bring the EPA to Heel

It's about time:

The Supreme Court on Monday considered whether an Obama administration regulation to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants gives the Environmental Protection Agency such authority. Coal companies and several Republican states, led by West Virginia, want to limit the Clean Power Plan from 2015 that never took effect due to a volley of lawsuits. If the Supreme Court were to rule against the EPA, the move would restrict the agency's ability to control climate-warming carbon emissions based on health, workplace safety and other conditions.

So what's the fuss all about?

During over two hours of oral arguments, the justices focused on how to interpret Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, the statutory source of the federal government's authority to regulate emissions from power plants. The states and coal companies prefer a narrower reading adopted by the Trump administration. That interpreted Section 111 as only allowing requirements at individual plants rather than regulating the industry, as the Environmental Protection Agency intended during the Obama administration by offering power plants credits for generating power from sources that emit less carbon dioxide than coal.

Many of these troublesome agencies date from the Nixon administration, which in 1970 unleashed not only the Environmental Protection Agency but also OSHA on an unsuspecting American public. Unconstitutional from the start, these meddlesome bureaucracies quickly took on their primary task, which was empire-building. As the U.S. has moved from a constitutional republic to a regulatory state, civil liberties have been corroded and diminished, and control has been ceded from the popular will of the people to the entrenched bureaucracy based in Washington, D.C., but with tentacles now firmly grasping all 50 formerly sovereign states.

Such beasts have been a godsend to the lawfare crews of the left, which can sue private companies out of existence for falling afoul of this or that "interpretation" of what Congress half a century ago "meant" in irresponsibly establishing quasi-immortal fiefdoms whose primary task would be self-perpetuation, since the problem it was created to address could, in fact, never be solved.

The current fight is among the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations and their civil-service drones; as each party succeeds the other in the White House, the rules change and change back, keeping the lawyers happy and the paper-pushers busy but otherwise accomplishing nothing.

The Obama administration had planned to require states to lower carbon dioxide emissions by replacing coal power plants with green energy sources. About 62% of U.S. electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, according to government statistics. According to the EPA, electricity production is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, behind transportation.

West Virginia Solicitor General Lindsay See told the justices they should overturn a federal appeals court decision saying the EPA could issue such plans. See argued that only Congress has the authority to set energy policy. "This is a major question because it is a new exercise of authority and a transformative result in an area of traditional state authority," See told the justices.

He's right of course. But Congress has long since abdicated its core legislative functions, preferring instead to create monsters such as the EPA in its Laboratory of Democracy and then leave the details to others while the Capitol Hill solons scheme for ever-higher electoral office. Every one of them dreams of being the next Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell. And given that a lifelong hack like Joe Biden now sits in the Oval Office, they can dream, can't they?

Meanwhile, the rest of us suffer. And pay.

Will the Supreme Court Nip the EPA Next?

Too many people judge Supreme Court actions on whether they agree with the outcome, without reference to how the Court said it reached that outcome. Many who cheered when the Court kept the Trump administration from asking citizenship questions on the census cannot be happy with the recent decision respecting vaccination mandates and may be even more unhappy when the Court resolves three challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations on power plant energy production.

This Supreme Court appears to be chipping away at the behemoth Administrative State and the EPA’s regulations on greenhouse gas regulations may be next on the chopping block. That’s the view of Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy and I think he has a valid claim.

Not so fast, OSHA.

Adler’s thesis begins with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s emergency regulation which mandated that all private employers with one hundred employees  require its employees to be vaccinated against Covid or undergo repeated weekly testing for the virus. The Court ruled that this exceeded the agency’s grant by Congress to protect the health of workers in their place of employment  The Court made clear that without a clear congressional mandate the agency was never given congressional authority to make such  “ a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees.”

 There is a hint in Chief Justice Roberts and several other members of the court that they believed that the regulation was a pretextual effort to increase Covid vaccinations, and not a workplace safety move. And the scope of OSHA’s mandate is, after all, simply and exclusively workplace safety. The notion that regulations might be held invalid because they were pretextual even if the agency could provide a reasonable justification for them, was signaled  in an earlier case involving the right of the Trump administration to reinstate a citizenship question in the census:

 [T]he Chief Justice's decision to prop open the door to consider pretext invites litigants challenging agency actions to search for evidence -- whether or not in the official record -- to show that they, too, have been the subject of an unlawfully pretextual agency action. There is nothing in the Chief Justice's opinion that suggests this analysis is to be confined to those contexts in which the distribution of political power or other particularly weighty concerns are at stake, and there is much language in his opinion... that could find a ready home in legal challenges against HHS, the Education Department, or the EPA.

This is a departure from the usual view on judicial review . Normally, if the regulators can provide a reasonable justification and the regulation aligns with the statutory mandate, courts will not interfere. It also justifies court consideration of matters outside the text of the regulations itself. In sum, it presaged the OSHA case where the White House chief of staff Ron Klain retweeted that this regulation was a “work around” to increase the number of people vaccinated when there was no authority for an executive order compelling it.

Other evidence of the pretextual nature of the  vaccine mandate regulations is found in its own language--the deciding factor for coverage was the number of employees and not the workplace conditions. So, for example if all those one hundred employees were working from home they were covered by the mandate, but if a ninety nine- employee shop involved people working close together in poorly ventilated settings they were not. Seems fairly obviously irrational, doesn’t it?

Block that pretext!

The left may have cheered the census case outcome -- the Supreme Court remanded the issue back to the lower courts and in so doing delayed inclusion of the question in the census-- but it may come back to bite them as coming up on the docket is a case involving the EPA and its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

This case comes up on several writs of certiorari to the court, challenging a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which held that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had authority under the Clean Air Act  to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Then President Trump rescinded the Obama Administrations Clean Power Plan (CPP) and adopted an Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) in its place. The D.C. court concluded that the Trump Administration's recision was arbitrary and capricious, though it did not compel a reinstatement of the CPP, and the EPA still has not come up with new regulations. In the face of the Supreme Court trend to clip administrative agency wings the EPA is in limbo presently. It has no idea how far the new regulations may sweep.

The three cases upon which the Court granted certiorari broadly question EPA’s authority -- does the Clean Air Act have any limits? What are these administrative boundaries? For example, can the agency ignore cost of compliance, the power of states to set performance standards, reshape the nation’s electricity grid? These, among others, are the questions raised by the three petitioners.

However the Court decides, it is likely to be the most important environmental (and energy) decision cases in the court’s history. And it seems to follow on a partisan attack on the revival of an apparently unrelated citizenship question in the census. On such things does the course of history turn.