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What does the Supreme Court decision to strike down Chevron mean for current environmental regulations?


On June 28, 2024, the Supreme Court issued a significant ruling overturning the Chevron doctrine, which had been in place since the 1984 case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. This ruling may throw into question the future of climate change and other environmental regulation in the United States.

The Chevron Doctrine had defined the extent to which a federal court, in reviewing a federal government agency’s action, should defer to the agency’s construction of a statute that the agency has been delegated to administer. Under Chevron, if a statute is silent or ambiguous on a particular matter, the court must decide if the agency’s interpretation is “based on a permissible construction of the statute.” According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Chevron deference further entails that “When Congress explicitly left a gap in a program to fill, the agency’s regulations are given controlling weight unless arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to statute. When such a gap is implicitly left by Congress, the court is not to substitute its own construction of the statute as long as the agency’s interpretation is reasonable.” 

In the 35-page ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts, the justices rejected the doctrine, calling it “fundamentally misguided.” They argued that Chevron deference gave federal agencies excessive power that led to significant policy swings with each new administration, causing instability in regulatory environments like securities, environmental, and communications law. Justice Kavanaugh pointed out that Chevron allowed agencies to enact massive changes unilaterally, which could disrupt industries and the lives of individuals.

The impact of the decision will take years to become clear.  The justices stated that this decision should not be a reason to challenge past statues including the Clean Air Act. Still, there is a risk that there may be a rush of litigation challenging regulations across the entire federal government, including those from agencies like the EPA and the Department of the Interior that have a huge role in the climate fight.

Time will tell.

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