How SCOTUS’ upcoming climate ruling could defang Washington

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A legal fight over the EPA’s power to restrict greenhouse gases offers conservative justices an opportunity to tie the executive branch’s hands on a host of issues — from Covid to net neutrality.

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The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling this month hobbling the Biden administration’s efforts to rein in greenhouse gases — but its impact could weaken Washington’s power to oversee wide swaths of American life well beyond climate change.

The upcoming decision on the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate oversight offers the conservative justices an opportunity to undermine federal regulations on a host of issues, from drug pricing and financial regulations to net neutrality. Critics of the EPA have clamored for the high court to do just that, by declaring it unlawful for federal agencies to make “major” decisions without clear authorization from Congress.

The Supreme Court and several Republican-appointed judges have invoked the same principle repeatedly during the past year to strike down a series of Biden administration responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Liberal legal scholars worry that the EPA case could yield an aggressive version of that thinking — unraveling much of the regulatory state as it has existed since the New Deal.

That has implications for other major rules that President Joe Biden’s agencies are writing or defending in court, including wetlands protections, limits on car and truck pollution, insurance coverage for birth control under Obamacare, and even the Trump administration’s attempts to lower drug prices.

“A narrow reading of what the federal agencies can do is going to literally handcuff the federal government from taking action to protect Americans’ health safety and the environment,” said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University.

Climate change and ‘major questions’

The immediate stakes in the EPA case are big enough on their own: Two coal companies and a phalanx of Republican-led states want the court to limit the agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, a major driver of global warming that threatens to worsen flooding, droughts, disease and other calamities in the coming decades.

The case’s origins are messy and complicated, involving a sweeping Obama-era power plant climate rul…

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