'West Virginia v. EPA': The Forecast Is Cloudy for Environmental and Agency Regulation

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued its long-awaited opinion in West Virginia v. EPA, significantly restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to combat climate change and regulate carbon emissions on a national scale. At issue in the case was the EPA’s authority to enact the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which included a nationwide mandate for power plants to shift energy sources from fossil fuels to natural gas and renewables.

Major Questions Doctrine

In a 6-3 opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court invalidated the CPP, holding that the EPA exceeded its statutory authority under §111(d) of the Clean Air Act in setting performance standards based on the power generation shifting system outlined in the CPP. The court invoked the “Major Questions Doctrine,” a scarcely used body of case law prohibiting agencies—except in “certain extraordinary circumstances”—from making “decisions of vast economic and political significance” without an express delegation of authority from Congress. West Virginia v. EPA, 142 S. Ct. 2587, 2605 (2022). The court reasoned that §111(d) of the Clean Air Act did not contain a clear delegation of power that would permit the EPA to “force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal[.]” Id. at 2616.

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