Jan 17, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Supreme Court case could limit executive power on climate, energy

Illustration of a gavel knocking down a line of columns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday morning in a case that could bring fresh constraints on federal agencies' running room to craft energy and climate regulations.

Driving the news: The justices will dive into cases challenging "Chevron deference" — a longstanding precedent that gives departments broad leeway when underlying statutes are vague or silent on a topic.

Why it matters: The litigation is technically about a fisheries rule, but curtailing Chevron — which the conservative majority looks primed to do — would affect far more areas of regulation.

State of play: Conservatives and business groups say Chevron upsets the constitutional balance of powers, giving executive agencies authority that Congress never intended or approved.

The other side: Environmental groups say nixing or weakening the precedent would block agencies from confronting evolving threats and from using technical and scientific expertise within their ranks.

Catch up fast: The high court already imposed limits on regulators in 2022; a 6-3 ruling found that a far-reaching (albeit defunct) Obama-era power plant mandate violated the "major questions" doctrine.

  • That's the idea that big, consequential regulations require clear authorization by Congress.

What we're watching: How that decision, and this week's case, affect new and brewing rules like planned SEC climate disclosure mandates. And politically, the outcome could feed wider campaign narratives.

The big picture: For conservatives, paring back regulators' powers would show results from Trump-appointed judges.

  • An array of left groups who will rally outside the court this morning call the case a "power grab" by the court's "MAGA majority" on behalf of "wealthy benefactors and special interests."

The bottom line: Today's arguments will be wonky and dry, but the stakes are huge.

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