Supreme Court kills off Chevron Deference, empowering corporate challenges to environmental laws, warns NRDC

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/YinYang
© GettyImages/YinYang
The US Supreme Court has made it much easier for major corporations, like Big Oil, to weaken environmental and public health laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, according to the NRDC.

At the end of last month, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to end a long-standing legal precedent known as the ‘Chevron deference,’ which has been a target for conservatives for decades.

The NRDC explains ​that this decision in the Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo​ case severely limits the ability of federal agencies to function by removing the 40-year-old legal standard.

“Instead of deferring to the expertise of agencies on how to interpret ambiguous language in laws pertaining to their work, federal judges now have the power to decide what a law means for themselves. As a result, despite not being accountable to the people, judges will now be able to expand their role into the realm of policymaking.”

The NRDC says the June 28 decision has major consequences for the rule of law and the functioning of agencies that protect the public from pollution, contaminated food, workplace hazards, and rising drug prices.

Broader regulatory impact

The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) also commented, saying the decision will impact regulatory activity across the US government, including the animal feed and pet food industries.

“We are currently reviewing the decision, but it makes it even more important that we have Congress act on the Innovative FEED Act to give FDA the clear direction of how to regulate novel animal food ingredients,” an AFIA spokesperson tells FeedNavigator.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, stresses the importance of electing presidents who appoint Supreme Court justices guided by science and sound legal precedent. Despite this “misguided opinion,” she believes that strong US environmental laws still empower agencies like the EPA to protect air, water, and climate. “They must use it.”

History of Chevron Deference

The ‘Chevron deference,’ established in 1984 by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Chevron USA v Natural Resources Defense Council, has been a cornerstone of US administrative law. The NRDC notes it has supported critical US protections involving pollution and food safety.

“David Doniger argued the Chevron case on behalf of NRDC, which at the time was trying to get the EPA to adequately enforce pollution controls at industrial facilities under the Clean Air Act. The agency under then President Ronald Reagan was more inclined toward pursuing industry-friendly deregulation than decreasing pollution. Citing statutory ambiguity, Reagan’s EPA proffered its interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s directive—an interpretation that was, unsurprisingly, much more to the liking of polluters and industrial facility owners (like Chevron). The court ultimately ruled in favor of the agency, and the precedent of Chevron deference was born.”

Legal experts weigh in

Legal experts at Norton Rose Fulbright note​ that the Supreme Court decision changes the era of agency rule.

“Decades of deference granted to federal regulators, which impact the ability of federal agencies to interpret statutes, promulgate binding regulations and issue sub-regulatory guidance, will be called into question and limit the ability of federal agencies to act when Congress fails to address unforeseeable and unknown complexities in a statutory scheme.”

The theory behind Chevron deference is that experts in federal agencies are often better suited to understand the impact of new laws and how they should be implemented in specific industries, say the lawyers.

“Loper is sure to embolden prospective plaintiffs who feel that various federal agencies have been operating beyond the confines of their statutory authority.”

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