In one of my other incarnations I teach public policy and legal interpretation at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. One of the cases we discuss every fall is Massachusetts v. EPA, a controversial standing decision by the Supreme Court that allowed the Bay State and others to bend the rules for suing the EPA for not regulating greenhouse gases.
This was in the halcyon days of the George W. Bush Administration when conservative EPA appointees had the temerity to point out that the Clean Air Act gave the agency no authorization to interpret carbon dioxide as pollution to be regulated.
No bother, said then-Justice John Paul Stevens in his majority opinion that included Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of last week’s immigration decision in Arizona v. U.S. In the EPA case, Justice Stevens said that states like Massachusetts are due “special solicitude” when litigating at the federal bar, especially when their sovereignty is threatened by eroding coastlines thanks to future speculated rises in sea levels from global warming. (I’ll bet Arizona Governor Jan Brewer would have liked Justice Kennedy to remember her state’s “special solicitude” regarding the integrity of its borders.)
Now we’ve got a different Administration and a different outcome. The Obama EPA was all too happy to make the carbon dioxide endangerment finding the Supreme Court made possible. The energy industry sued claiming EPA lacked jurisdiction, and last Tuesday the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld EPA’s unenumerated power to redefine pollution.
Unless the Supreme Court intervenes and overrules the D.C. Circuit, the fight will now move to how EPA uses its newfound regulatory power. What are the likely outcomes? The New York Times summarizes two of the main arguments:
“This decision ensures that a regulatory approach to emissions cuts will take place, whether or not Congress acts legislatively,” said Paul Bledsoe, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit group that specializes in energy and environmental issues. “The question is, does the industry push Congress to develop a more efficient, less costly approach now that regulation is inevitable?”
But Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that Congress’s refusal to approve greenhouse gas limits constituted a decision and that lawmakers should act now to reverse the E.P.A. emissions rules. Carbon regulation “threatens to drive energy prices higher, destroy jobs and hamstring our economic recovery,” he said.
So, an overweening federal agency emboldened by implied powers of regulatory control is going to act “whether or not Congress acts legislatively”? My sympathies are with Chairman Upton’s point that no decision is a decision, but that’s clearly not a roadblock to activist bureaucrats with case precedent on their side. It’s time for Congress to get back in the game and rein in the administrative state with clear and direct commands. They know how to write those kinds of statutes. It’s time they did more of it.