Yesterday, in a ruling that surprised many legal experts, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay that blocked the federal government from implementing a series of far-reaching environmental regulations that effectively crippled the coal industry. The new rules were issued by the Environmental Protection Agency last summer as part of President Obama’s attempt to unilaterally force America’s energy sector to conform to the administration’s demands that it act to reduce carbon emissions. Acting without the consent of Congress or the states that regulate local power grids, the president imposed new mandates that would, once the plan was implemented in 2022, close hundreds of coal-fired power plants. In doing so, the president was seeking to set the stage for other countries to make their own changes to comply with an international climate change agenda. But thanks to a 5-4 majority on the court, nothing will be done to implement these changes until an appeals court can formally a rule on a challenge to the EPA that has been brought forward by 29 states as well as various corporations and industry groups.
But the issue at stake here is more than just another rehashing of arguments about global warming. What the court has done is restore some sense of accountability to an environmental regulatory procedure that has taken on the tone of a legislative process in an absolute monarchy. The states will now have a chance to make their case before the coal industry is regulated out of existence rather than after the fact. Indeed, most court watchers think the ruling on the stay indicates that the same 5-4 margin against the administration might be the result once the case gets its way to the Supreme Court.
By giving the challengers to the new rules a chance to have their day in court before the issue is moot, the Supreme Court is not just saving the jobs of coal miners and the economies of several states. It also struck a blow for the rule of law at a time when the president has come to believe that he no longer needs the consent of the legislature in order to make the laws of the land whether it concerns immigration — which he has sought to change via executive order — or energy.
That’s a good thing whether or not you agree with the president and liberal orthodoxy about climate change and the desire of the left to transform our economy in pursuit of their goals.
The merits of the case hinge on whether the power the courts have given the EPA to issue environmental regulations extends to actions that can both override existing state powers. At stake is also whether any administration also can give itself the ability to legislate out of existence a major American industry on the basis of a presidential order.
In its defense, the Obama administration simply waves the flag of climate change and demands that the courts stand aside and ignore the concept of checks and balances in our constitutional system. But as may be the case with the president’s efforts to grant up to five million illegal immigrants amnesty via an end run around Congress, the courts may not be willing to go along with such a blatant power grab.
Nor should they. If the U.S. is going to effectively get rid of the coal industry in spite of its successful efforts to become cleaner as well as cost effective, it ought to involve more than a bureaucrat carrying out a presidential order. That’s especially true when it comes to trampling on state authority. But as the president has done with illegal immigration, he isn’t interested in bothering with the messy work of persuading Congress to change the laws. With so many jobs and the future of an American economy that could be crippled by rules that affect the price and availability of energy, the courts should be intervening to preserve constitutional order regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of the arguments about the climate.
It is also important to note that this court ruling that was issued yesterday afternoon was generally lost in a news cycle that was dominated by the New Hampshire primary results. But rather than being irrelevant to the horse race stories about both the Republicans and the Democrats, this case ought to be considered a reminder of what is really important when picking a new president.
This salutary lesson in the importance of constitutional principles and the rule of law was only made possible because of the current makeup of the court. Given the age of several of the justices, the next president may have the chance to choose new members of the high court. If it is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or perhaps a Republican with no strong affinity for constitutional principles (such as the current Republican frontrunner who thinks rulings that have allowed out-of-control use of eminent domain are wonderful), then you can forget about having a court that will be willing to stand up the executive in this manner. One more liberal means a majority for untrammeled executive power that could go beyond Obama’s extralegal moves on immigration and coal.
Though it got little attention today amid the deluge of coverage of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and the rest of the candidates, the EPA case is an object lesson about how the stakes in this election truly are. More to the point, if conservatives choose a presidential candidate that can’t beat the Democrats or who can’t be relied upon to pick constitutional conservatives for the court, then they might as well vote for the Democrats and sit back and watch them run roughshod over the rule of law.