By Robert F. Sanchez, Right to the Point
“Not so fast, bureaucrats!” That’s the message the U.S. Supreme Court delivered to the “administrative state” in one of the final rulings of its tumultuous 2021-22 term.
That ruling — holding that the Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its statutory authority while attempting to regulate power plants’ emissions — was somewhat overshadowed in news coverage by the widely misunderstood rulings involving abortion and guns.
The ruling against the EPA also was widely misunderstood and/or misrepresented by the left-leaning media, which depict virtually every weather-related phenomenon as an omen of planetary doom attributable to climate change.
Here’s the deal: The departments and agencies in the executive branch of government are created by legislation, which defines their authority. They may not extrapolate beyond the statutes by saying, for instance, that, “Our agency’s name includes the word ‘environmental,’ so we’re free to do anything and everything we can plausibly justify as related to the environment.”
The same applies to funding in the federal budget. The EPA may not unilaterally decide that an appropriation to build a dam as a flood-control measure in a congressman’s district was a pork-barrel project that will harm an obscure species of fish, even if it was, and instead use that as a rationale to redirect the funds for something more in tune with the bureaucrats’ wishes.
Nor can the Federal Communications Commission — created in the early days of radio to act as a sort of traffic cop in the assignment of frequencies — suddenly decide that it has the authority to regulate the internet. If that’s a good idea, persuade Congress to authorize it.
Indeed, in a democratic republic, the decisions of elected officials ought to mean something, even if they’re sometimes wrong or hamstrung by their inability to form a consensus on contentious issues.
This same set of checks and balances applies to state and local governments, and Florida offers an illustrative example of how the process ought to work.
Consider: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election-year agenda included several proposals he pitched as reforms in public education However, he could not impose them on his own, nor could the Florida Department of Education, notwithstanding its agreement with his goals.
Instead, DeSantis sought and received statutory authority through the so-called Stop WOKE Act and the Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics misleadingly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Act.”
As for the EPA’s goal of reducing emissions that cause global warming, what it needs to do now is ask Congress for the statutory authority necessary to propose rules that will then be vetted through a series of administrative hearings during which all stakeholders — including the public — may offer comments in support or opposition.
Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s EPA ruling, which also will rein in federal agencies well beyond the EPA itself, are still echoing in the affluent suburbs around Washington, D.C., where so many of the agencies’ leaders and staffers reside.
When it comes to their political leanings, those areas in Maryland and northern Virginia are among America’s “bluest.” Now the Supreme Court, in forcing federal agencies to heed the rule of law, has given these unelected bureaucrats a different reason to feel blue.
Robert F. Sanchez, of Tallahassee, is a former member of the Miami Herald Editorial Board, which is part of the Invading Sea collaborative. He writes for the Herald’s free conservative opinion newsletter, Right to the Point. To subscribe, go to miamiherald.com/righttothepoint.
Photo of the Supreme Court building was taken by Philosophicalswag. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.