CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — The Supreme Court Thursday ruled in favor of the Mountain State in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, concluding administrative agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) don’t have the authority to make decisions of “vast economic and political significance.”

The case was centered around regulations that would have gone into effect under the Clean Power Plan, which was introduced in 2015, stayed by the Supreme Court in 2016 and repealed by the Trump administration in 2019.

The Clean Power Plan would have set emissions limits, and individual states would have had to set enforceable rules to keep power plants and other sources of energy at or under that limit.

The government projected that the effects would include:

  • Billions of dollars in compliance costs.
  • An increase in retail energy prices.
  • Retiring dozens of coal plants.
  • The elimination of tens of thousands of jobs.

The opinion, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, cites the major questions doctrine, saying federal agencies must point to “clear congressional authorization” for the authority it claims due to the separation of powers.

A Closer Look at Separation of Powers

Under the Constitution, the three co-equal branches of government have separate and specific responsibilities and authorities, and each branch has a method to “check” the others if it’s believed one of the branches has overstepped its authority.

Legislative Branch (Congress: The House of Representatives and the Senate) — Responsible for:

  • Drafting bills.
  • Balancing the federal budget.
  • Confirming or rejecting nominations for heads of federal agencies, federal judges and the Supreme Court.
  • Formally declaring war.

Executive Branch (The President, Vice President and federal agencies, departments and committees and their heads, known as “The Cabinet”) — Responsible for:

  • Carrying out and enforcing laws.
  • Serving as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
  • Building and maintaining foreign relations.
  • Passing or vetoing legislation presented by Congress.

Judicial Branch (The Supreme Court of the United States, circuits of federal courts throughout the county and judicial agencies) — Responsible for:

  • Interpreting the meaning of laws.
  • Applying laws to individual cases.
  • Deciding if laws violate the Constitution, and staying or overturning them if they do.

The EPA and other federal agencies are within the Executive Branch, meaning it’s their job to enforce laws, not enact them.

SCOTUS’s opinion concludes that the emissions cap would have been an attempt at regulation by the EPA.

The full Supreme Court opinion can be read here.

This ruling comes at a time when the role of federal agencies has become increasingly important. For example, the Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That moratorium was left in place by the Supreme Court back in 2021, with Chief Justice Roberts siding with the court’s loose constructionist, often called “liberal”, minority to keep it in place.