Tags: Federal | Agencies' | Powers | Trial

Federal Agencies' Powers on Trial

Tuesday, 07 November 2000 12:00 AM

According to a Tuesday story in the Christian Science Monitor:

The nation's highest court begins hearing a case Tuesday that will decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clinton-Gore administration usurped Congress's constitutional legislative powers when it created sweeping regulation of pollution limits on industries under the federal Clean Air Act.

The implications of this case against EPA Administrator Carol Browner go far beyond one federal agency.

They set the stage for a showdown over the power of federal regulatory agencies, which function under ambiguous mandates from Congress.

Jeff Gleason, head of the air pollution project at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, Va., says:

"If the Supreme Court goes along with [a lower court's ruling that the EPA acted unconstitutionally], it will have repercussions far beyond the Clean Air Act and far beyond environmental legislation.

"It is going to affect the ability of agencies to effectively implement legislation, regardless of the nature of that legislation."

And Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of General Electric, said:

"The lack of clear congressional standards limiting EPA, coupled with the agency's unfettered discretion to establish its own guideposts, ensures that there is no adequate check on EPA's decision-making.

"The balance of authority contemplated by the separation of powers does not exist."

One of the things the court will be asked to decide is whether the EPA must consider economic and other factors in addition to health risks.

Congress instructed the EPA, in setting air pollution limits, to use the most up-to-date scientific information that will best protect public health.

But critics of the regulatory process say that if the EPA doesn't take into account other factors, such as costs of industry compliance, it is left with unlimited discretion to set standards arbitrarily.

Insisting that Congress imposed enough limitations on EPA discretion to pass constitutional muster, Seth Waxman, the solicitor general, said:

"An executive branch agency, acting pursuant to congressional direction, is entitled to assess the available evidence and make a reasoned judgment on the proper regulatory standard."

Environmentalists argue that the Clean Air Act was designed deliberately to insulate the EPA from excessive industry pressures during the regulatory process.

They say Congress intentionally excluded consideration of cost-benefit analysis, for example, to ensure that only public health would be considered.

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According to a Tuesday story in the Christian Science Monitor: The nation's highest court begins hearing a case Tuesday that will decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clinton-Gore administration usurped Congress's constitutional legislative powers...
Federal,Agencies',Powers,Trial
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2000-00-07
Tuesday, 07 November 2000 12:00 AM
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