Rule of Law

Texas v. Environmental Protection Agency

In Texas v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a challenge by states and industry groups to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks.

Case Summary

In December 2021, the EPA finalized its Revised 2023 and Later Model Year Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards.  These standards, issued pursuant to authority granted by the Clean Air Act, revised less demanding standards for those model years issued by the previous administration.

In February 2022, Texas, other states, and industry groups petitioned the D.C. Circuit to review the standards.  Among other arguments, the petitioners claimed that the EPA lacked authority to act because the standards implicated the major questions doctrine and the Clean Air Act did not clearly authorize the new standards.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit consolidated the petitions for review.

On March 3, 2023, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the EPA.  Our brief makes three main points.

First, we explain that West Virginia v. EPA and its predecessor cases show that the major questions doctrine applies only in “extraordinary” cases where an agency’s breathtaking assertion of power reflects a dubious effort to transform the fundamental nature of its authority.  The Supreme Court has consistently demonstrated that more than economic and political significance alone is needed to invoke the doctrine; additional evidence must also indicate that the agency is subverting congressional intent by seeking “an unheralded power representing a transformative expansion in its regulatory authority.”

With that understanding, we continue on to argue that the EPA’s issuance of motor vehicle emissions standards is far from “extraordinary.” None of the factors that determine whether a case involves a major question are met in this case.  Instead, the EPA is simply using its flagship authority under Title II of the Clean Air Act as it has for decades: to set technologically feasible vehicle emissions standards that protect health and welfare.

Finally, we argue that extending the major questions doctrine to cases like this would undermine traditional statutory interpretation and constitutional principles. We describe how a broad major questions doctrine is in tension with textualism and that Petitioners are effectively asking the D.C. Circuit to impose limits on the EPA’s consideration of electric vehicle technology with no basis in statutory text. We explain that the Constitution’s original public meaning does not support a broad reading of the major questions doctrine; the Founding-era Congress had no qualms about directing the executive branch to handle major policy questions, and there is no basis for requiring Congress to speak in a certain manner in order to do so today. And finally, we outline how overuse of the major questions doctrine would undermine the separation of powers and thrust the courts beyond their proper role interpreting the law.

In sum, despite Petitioners’ assertion that the EPA’s latest greenhouse gas standards implicate the major questions doctrine, Supreme Court precedent shows that this case is far from an “extraordinary case” to which the doctrine applies.  Petitioners’ efforts to expand the doctrine run afoul of textualism, the original public meaning of our Constitution, and the separation of powers.  As such, we ask the D.C. Circuit to dismiss or deny the petitions.

Case Timeline