The Supreme Court’s Ruling on West Virginia vs. EPA
Implications for the energy industry and other government organizations
The Supreme Court was busy last week before breaking for its summer recess. One of the last cases they ruled on was West Virginia vs. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
West Virginia brought the case, arguing that the EPA does not have the power to regulate power plant emissions and that authority can only be granted by Congress.
This case is a product of previous EPA regulations and laws. In 2015, the Clean Power Plan was issued, which required existing fossil fuel plants to decrease their production or offset their production by subsidizing the generation of renewable energy.
The Clean Power Plan was never enacted, as it was replaced in 2019 with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule.
West Virginia is known for their coal; it is important for the state’s economy and power generation. The EPA wanted to limit the emissions outputted from coal power plants, which would have been devastating to West Virginia.
On the other side, the EPA has pushed in recent years to curb greenhouse gas emissions of coal power plants, as they try to move to a system that relies more on renewable energy.
The Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in favor of West Virginia, affirming that the EPA does not have the power to limit emissions from existing power plants and that authority needs to come from Congress.
The Supreme Court had given its ruling based on the major questions doctrine. In short, it holds that if federal agencies issue regulations with significant economic and political consequences, they are invalid unless Congress has authorized it.
Chief Justice John Roberts explained the court’s reasoning as “A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.” He faulted the EPA for expanding its powers in “the vague language of a long-extant, but rarely used, statute.”