The Supreme Court’s major questions doctrine and its implications for Big Tech

Last week, the Supreme Court punctuated a blockbuster term with a significant administrative law case. Although West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency was not as flashy as gun control or abortion, the court’s decision to strike down the Clean Power Plan has implications far beyond climate change. This post explores that decision and examines what the court’s major questions doctrine means for agencies going forward — including those regulating Big Tech.

The Decision

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency involved the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The Clean Air Act allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate emissions from power plants. In 2015, the agency used that authority to announce a sweeping plan to address climate change: Rather than simply reduce carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants, the EPA would force these plants to transition to lower-emission natural gas — and ultimately to renewable energy such as wind and solar. The Trump administration EPA reversed this rule, explaining that the existing statute did not give the agency such broad authority. A coalition challenged that repeal in court.

Supreme Court building by Ben Schumin is licensed under Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

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