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Why the Supreme Court’s Chevron Doctrine Review Matters

January 22, 2024

The Chevron doctrine is a legal framework that empowers federal agencies to protect communities affected by climate change. In essence, it allows agencies to respond to new challenges and make rules to reduce pollution, improve safety, and enable equity in communities. However, the plaintiffs in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v.  Department of Commerce are seeking to overturn the 1984 ruling. Here is why it matters.

The Problem: Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce 

On January 17, 2024, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments for two cases contesting a federal regulation. The regulation mandates commercial fishing vessels to cover the costs of professional observers overseeing their catches for compliance with National Marine Fisheries Service regulations. The plaintiffs in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce are advocating for the justices to overturn the 1984 Supreme Court Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 468 U.S. 837 (1984) decision involving the energy company Chevron. In the 1984 decision, the court asserted that government agencies are most apt to interpret federal statutes when a question is not explicitly addressed, as long as the interpretation is deemed reasonable. This is known as "Chevron deference," a crucial principle in administrative law.

This principle involves the doctrine of judicial deference granted to administrative actions. In the Chevron case, the Supreme Court established a legal standard for determining when the court should defer to an agency's response or interpretation. The court ruled that such deference is warranted when the agency's answer is not unreasonable, especially in cases where Congress has not directly addressed the specific issue in question. The Supreme Court is poised to overturn Chevron deference, after nearly 40 years. This poses a significant threat to the power of federal agencies to be flexible and use their expertise to combat pollution, address climate change, and safeguard consumers without explicit authorization from Congress.

Why We Care

As advocates for climate equity, Dream.Org recognizes that weakening Chevron deference undermines the government's capacity to protect communities from modern dangers, such as unsafe air, water, drugs, or food. This jeopardizes the health, safety, and financial security of vulnerable populations, perpetuating environmental injustice.

Key Stats

  • Chevron deference originated during the Reagan administration, providing federal agencies latitude in ambiguous legal scenarios.
  • Conservative justices, including Gorsuch and Thomas, express skepticism, potentially leading to a reevaluation of the Chevron standard.
  • Overturning Chevron could impede federal agencies' ability to regulate and address emerging environmental issues.

What Government Agencies Do

When Congress passes a law, a tremendous amount of work begins. Government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, take the language of the law and begin to build the policies and tools to put it into action. Congress lacks expertise on the finer details of most issues. When they legislate, they leave room for agency experts and stakeholder engagement to shape the details of policies that will be most effective and beneficial in the spirit of the law. In 1984, the Supreme Court, during the Reagan administration, affirmed that this was the proper approach. They determined that agency experts, and not the courts, were best suited to make decisions regarding how best to design policies. Since 1984, agency experts, with the input of expert stakeholders, have relied upon that Supreme Court decision. Now, that may all be changing. 

Dream.Org’s Position

Overturning Chevron deference threatens the core principles of climate justice and equity, which is why we firmly support the Chevron doctrine. It recognizes that, in the face of legal ambiguity, federal agencies with specialized expertise should make crucial decisions. This ensures experts, not courts, are making critical decisions regarding complicated technical issues. It is imperative to maintain a regulatory environment that fosters innovation, uses agency and stakeholder expertise, and addresses emerging environmental challenges for the benefit of all citizens–especially those in Black and Brown communities–and we will continue to advocate for such.

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