WASHINGTON (CN) — Keeping up a drumbeat of opposition to ambitious tailpipe emissions guidelines proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, Senate Republicans pointed Thursday to a recent Supreme Court decision that they say strips the administration of unilateral authority to impose such restrictions.
The EPA in April unveiled its plan to impose strict emissions limits on cars and light trucks built between the 2027 and 2032 model years, a move that the agency has said could halve projected emissions levels for that time period and incentivize further growth in the electric vehicles market. A similar rule that implemented stringent emissions guidelines for heavy-duty vehicles was introduced in December.
Although Democrats and environmental advocates have hailed the move as a major step toward curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and heading off extreme weather events and other effects of climate change, congressional Republicans have long derided both proposed rules — which they view as executive overreach by the Biden administration that puts pressure on consumers and the auto industry.
Lawmakers intervened Tuesday on the EPA’s rulemaking, as the GOP-led House voted to overturn the proposed heavy-duty trucks emissions cap. The disapproval resolution squeaked through the Senate in April thanks in part to an affirmative vote from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. President Biden has already said that he would veto the measure.
While congressional action on the proposed emissions guidelines appears, for now, dead in the water, Senate Republicans on the upper chamber’s environment panel are now urging EPA Administrator Michael Regan to roll them back.
In a letter to the official dated Thursday, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito argued that the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in the case West Virginia v. EPA makes the agency’s emissions guidelines illegal on their face.
With its July 2022 decision, the Supreme Court embraced a conservative legal theory known as major questions doctrine, which holds that the executive branch of government, including federal agencies, cannot make unilateral decisions on issues of major economic or political importance without approval from Congress.
This doctrine, Capito and a group of 26 Republicans told Regan, should bar EPA from implementing strict caps on tailpipe emissions.
“Under that precedent, the EPA cannot force a wholesale change to ‘substantially restructure the American energy market’ without explicit congressional authorization,” Capito wrote, quoting the high court ruling. “This is a major, multi-billion dollar, policy-driven technology transition mandate to be imposed on American consumers by your Agency, without any semblance of the clear and direct statutory authority required by the ruling in West Virginia v. EPA.”
Beyond the legal implications, the lawmakers raised concerns about the technical and logistical challenges that could hamper the White House’s aspirations for an electrified auto market. One point mentioned Thursday is the current lack of generation capacity to support a nationwide fleet of electric cars. Capito pointed as well to what she called “chronic delays and uncertainty” in the federal permitting process for new generation facilities and complained that an efficient charging network for electric vehicles has yet to materialize — especially for heavy trucks.
Capito also took issue with what she said was a lack of consideration from the EPA about the domestic availability of lithium and graphite: critical minerals for electric vehicle production. The lawmaker suggested that the stringent emissions restrictions would increase U.S. reliance on foreign sources of those resources.
Further, the West Virginia Republican argued that the administration’s push for more electric vehicles would harm consumers, citing the relatively high cost of new electric cars and contending that the higher demand on the power grid would drive up electricity prices.
“Taken together, the erosion of choice and affordability of vehicles will have profound impacts on how American families run errands, get to school, commute to work, and recreate,” Capito wrote.
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