Presidents have for centuries used the powers of the White House to shape federal policy when they could not win support from Congress, whether to change the course of the economy or take the country to war.
Now the Biden administration is facing a critical test of its authority to enact climate policy, as Republicans in Congress attack new regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency on emissions from vehicles and power plants as overly costly and overstepping the bounds of executive authority.
They are buoyed by recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court, which over the past 12 months has struck down Obama-era regulations designed to reduce emissions from the power sector and to protect U.S. waterways from pollution as outside the authority granted by Congress.
“We have a pattern here where SCOTUS, the highest authority we have, says the EPA has exceeded it statutory authority,” said Rep. Pat Fallon, a Republican from North Texas. “This is dictatorship not by the proletariat but by the bureaucrats.”
The Biden administration is seeking to get greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector to net zero by 2040 through regulations that would force coal and natural gas plants to either capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions or shut down.
At a hearing in the House Oversight Committee this week, Republicans questioned Joseph Goffman, the EPA’s principal deputy assistant administrator for air and radiation, as to how he could justify the regulations considering the high cost of carbon capture technologies and electric vehicles relative to existing technology.
Goffman said the regulations had been designed to give companies plenty of time to adjust and were supported by hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and tax incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act and other legislation passed by Congress.
“We’re sitting here in 2023,” he said of the vehicle regulations. “(Automakers) have already carefully mapped out business plans for the later years of this decade and the 2030s to increasingly rely on EVs as part of their new car fleets.”
The debates in Congress are a preview of the legal fight that is expected to begin next year when the Biden administration is set to finalize its new power and transportation regulations.
And with a more conservative Supreme Court checking the limits on executive power, the administration will need to convince the justices that its climate regulations are within the bounds of pollution laws enacted by Congress decades ago.
“The Biden administration is doing as much as they can with the legal authority they have,” said David Adelman, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “All that said, there are people very concerned about the ‘major questions doctrine’ and how open ended that is.”
The major questions doctrine is a legal theory championed by Republican attorneys that the president is bound by powers specifically enacted to him by Congress.
For a longer version of this Houston Chronicle article, please visit https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/gop-climate-supreme-court-epa-18165109.php.