What the Supreme Court’s Chevron decision means for environmental regulations

The Supreme Court on Friday limited the power of federal agencies to regulate the environment, public health and other fundamental aspects of American life.

The 6-3 decision, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., could make it easier for courts to block regulations aimed at addressing air pollution, combating climate change and protecting endangered species, advocates say .

Here’s what you need to know about the decision and its potential impact on environmental protection in the United States:

What did the Supreme Court decide?

The two cases – Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo AND Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce challenged a federal rule requiring the herring industry to cover the costs of observers on fishing vessels.

In a ruling issued Friday, the Supreme Court struck down the rule issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service, deeming it overly burdensome. Lower courts had previously upheld the rule, deeming it a reasonable interpretation of federal law.

The decision effectively overturns a longstanding precedent known as Chevron doctrine.

What is the Chevron Doctrine?

The doctrine states that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of a law, as long as that interpretation is reasonable. It was created by the historic decision of the Supreme Court in 1984 Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council.

The 1984 decision represented a victory for the Reagan administration and a loss for environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council. Under President Ronald Reagan (R), the Environmental Protection Agency had issued a rule that allowed manufacturing plants to install or modify a piece of equipment without obtaining a federal permit.

Environmental groups had challenged the rule, saying it violates the Clean Air Act and would cause more air pollution. But in the unanimous 6-0 decision, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the court should defer to the EPA’s reading of the Clean Air Act and other agencies’ interpretations of other statutes.

In that time, Chevron it was not seen as a landmark decision. But it became a major precedent as it filtered through the lower courts and ultimately gave future administrations more power to issue stronger environmental regulations than those of the Reagan era.

Who supported the overthrow of Chevron?

A broad range of conservative advocacy groups have urged the court to overturn Chevron. But petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch has played a particularly influential role.

Both cases were supported by conservative legal organizations — the Cause for Action Institute and the New Civil Liberties Alliance — that have received millions of dollars from the Koch network, founded by Charles Koch and his late brother, David Koch. Charles Koch is the CEO of Koch Industries and a fierce critic of federal regulations.

Asked about this funding, Ryan Mulvey, an adviser at the Cause of Action Institute, said the focus should be on fishermen.

“Like any public interest law firm, the Cause of Action Institute took this case to protect the rights of individuals who do not have the resources to challenge unconstitutional actions themselves,” Mulvey said in an emailed statement. “This case has always been to justify their interests.”

Who supported Chevron’s retention?

Ironically, many environmental groups supported retention Chevronalthough the original 1984 decision handed them a defeat.

Two heavyweights in the environmental movement — the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council — both filed amicus briefs urging the justices not to overturn Chevron. Environmental law firm Earthjustice also filed a joint brief in defense of the doctrine on behalf of the Conservation Law Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and Save the Sound.

Additional support for Chevron came from a wide range of individuals and other groups, including Democratic senators, the American Cancer Society and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Will this affect efforts to combat climate change?

That’s according to David Doniger, senior strategic director of the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who argued that Chevron occasion. Doniger said the ruling issued Friday could prevent agencies from using older environmental laws to address newer environmental problems — such as climate change — when they arise.

“The real goal of the interest groups on the right that are supporting this litigation is to weaken the federal government’s ability to deal with the problems that the modern world throws at us,” Doniger said. “We could end up with a weaker federal government, and that means interest groups will be freer to pollute without restraint.”

However, President Biden’s signature climate law gave the EPA more authority to curb planet-warming emissions, Doniger said. For the first time, the climate law, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, designated greenhouse gases as air pollutants that the EPA can regulate under the Clean Air Act.

Will this affect efforts to protect endangered species?

In litigation over protections for vulnerable plants and animals, courts have often deferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. That could change in response to Friday’s ruling, said Damien Schiff, a senior attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm that supported the reversal. Chevron.

Chevron has been invoked to justify a very broad level of discretion about how endangered species are protected,” Schiff said.

Will this affect efforts to regulate toxic chemicals?

The EPA assesses the health risks posed by specific chemicals by interpreting scientific studies, not by interpreting vague statutes, said Madeleine Boyer, a principal at the firm Beveridge & Diamond who represents clients in the chemical industry.

Chevron “It is not intended to address the deference that should be given to an agency’s interpretation of its facts and science,” Boyer said.

What will be the short-term impact of the decision?

There may be an increase in lawsuits over the actions of federal agencies—not just environmental agencies like the EPA, but also the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. It could take years for this court case to play out.

Meanwhile, the decision could prompt Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill to step up their oversight of the Biden administration’s environmental rules, staff for the House Republican Study Committee wrote in a memo released Monday.

“If Chevron is reinstated or overturned, this will be a landmark decision that could open the door for Congress … to restore Biden’s smart and weaponized administration agenda,” the memo said.

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