June 30, 2022
Please see below for statements from O’Neill’s health law experts on the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA.
Lawrence Gostin, faculty director:
When the Supreme Court took up the case of West Virginia v. EPA, it was never simply concerned with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan from 2015 – a plan which was never implemented. This move was part of the conservative Court’s larger agenda to gut the regulatory state and decimate executive powers to protect Americans’ health and safety. In a stark departure from its own precedent, the Court refused to defer to the EPA’s interpretation of its statutory authority, tying the agency’s hands in responding to what is likely the biggest threat of our generation, climate change. But the breadth of this opinion goes beyond the EPA’s ability to regulate the environment and touches the authority of all federal agencies that issue regulations to protect our environment, health, and safety. The ripple effects of this decision are profound, and could hamstring agencies like CDC, OSHA, EPA, FDA, and CMS from regulating a huge number of issues.
Andrew Twinamatsiko, associate director of the Health Policy and the Law Initiative:
Today’s Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA is a huge blow to any hope of meaningful effort to combat climate change. With a stroke of a pen, the Court has upended the regulatory framework upon which Congress and federal agencies have relied for almost a century to adopt and implement federal legislation. Through the Clean Air Act, Congress authorized the EPA to set guidelines to reduce emissions, in line with its long reliance on regulatory agencies. The EPA, as directed by Congress, then adopted the Clean Power Plan in 2015. But today, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress’ clear directive to the EPA was not “clear” enough. Even more concerning, the Supreme Court was so eager to constrain EPA’s power that it ruled on this case even though the Clean Power Plan is no longer in place.
The Court’s decision in West Virginia goes beyond the EPA’s power to fight climate change. It will limit federal agencies from implementing and interpreting federal law and give unelected judges the power to second-guess Congress and the White House. West Virginia is especially alarming for those who care about health care and public health because Congress relies on the expertise of federal agencies — such as the FDA, CDC, NIH, etc. — to interpret and implement legislation. West Virginia is sadly yet another stop on the Court’s path to handcuff federal agencies and follows recent decisions to gut the CDC and OSHA’s power to fight COVID-19.
For further comment or to schedule an interview, please contact Lauren Dueck at Lauren.Dueck@georgetown.edu.