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U.S. Supreme Court Will Determine The Supremacy Of EPA

U.S. Supreme Court Will Determine The Supremacy Of EPA

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding how much leeway regulatory agencies have in rewriting legislation and using their regulatory powers to reach beyond the intent of legislation. This case involves the Clean Air Act and whether EPA has the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases under this act.

Regardless of how the court rules, it’s expected that carbon emissions likely will be regulated. However, the decision is expected to have an impact on whether EPA has free rein to regulate any and all emissions.

The Court, as it is on most politically sensitive decisions, is expected to be deeply divided, with one swing vote expected to carry the day. On a micro-level, in the state of Colorado, livestock groups like the Colorado Cattlemen’s and Colorado Livestock Association spend as much, if not more, time protecting the interests of the industry on the regulatory front as they do on the legislative front.

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In fact, it is a testament to the democratic legislative process that it represents far less danger to the industry than either the regulatory side or the ballot initiative side, where decisions tend to be made with very little substantive discussion or input. It’s difficult to overemphasize the impact of regulations. For example, in Obama’s first term in office, rules issued by EPA are estimated to have added $37.8 billion annually to private sector compliance costs.  

Technically, the Supreme Court is ruling a narrowly defined EPA action as they are looking specifically at the EPA’s “carbon endangerment” rule. But the bigger picture is it will help to establish how much government agencies are allowed to rewrite laws by bypassing democratic consent.

No matter how noble the cause (saving the world from the excesses of man and capitalism), will a government agency be allowed to broadly interpret a law and, in effect, create legislation without the input of the legislature? The importance of this debate is very important and very opportune. The great question seems to be that it can be argued that the Clean Air Act, does allow for the EPA actions based on the interpretation of the law. The decision may not be as important as how the Justices explain their decision, whatever it may be.


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