Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have become an everyday reality for most businesses. In fact, for any major corporation, these agencies have seemingly unlimited power to regulate everything from what types of ladders employees can use to complex matters involving greenhouse emissions.
However, in a recent Supreme Court case, coal companies, coal-fired energy states and others have challenged the EPA’s power.
West Virginia vs. The Environmental Protection Agency
The case in question, West Virginia vs. The Environmental Protection Agency, is currently in the stage of oral arguments as of the writing of this post. The case involves some complex questions.
According to Harvard Law Review, at the heart of the case stands the question of the EPA’s scope of authority. More specifically, is the EPA limited to regulating only issues within a specific company’s “fence line,” or can the EPA make more sweeping regulations that could impact an entire power sector.
A unique legal problem
The main problem with this case is that it is not a plaintiff seeking the redress of a specific wrong; it is a plaintiff seeking clarification generally on the legal limits of the EPA’s scope regarding greenhouse emission regulation.
The Court usually only rule on existing cases and controversies, and, historically, the Supreme Court would not rule in a case like this.
The debate at hand involves Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which generally grants the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from “stationary sources.” This law has been implemented differently for the last few presidential administrations.
The current administration has not yet issued a ruling on this issue, has not said whether the EPA can create sweeping rules that impact multiple sources of emissions, or whether the EPA’s authority is limited to any individual company or structure creating emissions.
If the Court does rule definitively on this issue, it will have significant implications throughout American industry.
This case has some obvious implications for any company involved in greenhouse emissions. If the Court rules that the EPA’s power is not limited to individual fence-lines, the agency will be free to create potentially severe regulations that could seriously hinder coal operations and coal-dependent states from getting power efficiently. Conversely, a ruling that limits the EPA’s scope would allow these concerns to continue operating more cost-effectively, but with possible harmful effects to the environment.
These are extremely complicated legal and governmental issues involved with this case. Our legal team will continue monitoring this case as it progresses. It is important for any corporation or governmental entity to understand the EPA’s regulations as well as the limits to its authority.