Official Statement: Chevron Decision a Disaster for Environmental Justice

Jul 1, 2024 | BM4F Spotlights, Catch the Green Tea, Policy Statements, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

July 1, 2024

Young, Gifted & Green, a national civil rights and environmental justice organization, strongly condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo [1]. This decision further empowers federal judges to strike down federal regulations that are essential for protecting the public. In a 6-3 ruling, the Court eliminated a longstanding legal principle known as Chevron deference. Chevron deference had previously required courts to defer to reasonable interpretations of ambiguous laws made by the federal agencies responsible for administering those laws. This allowed expert, politically accountable staff at agencies like the EPA and other agencies to use science and their specialized knowledge to develop effective regulatory policies. This ruling is highly significant because Congress passes laws, but federal agencies are tasked with implementing and enforcing them. The Chevron deference doctrine had ensured that courts would generally defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous statutory language. By eliminating this principle, the Court has made it much easier for regulated industries to challenge important public protections in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling significantly limits the ability of federal agencies to interpret ambiguous provisions in environmental laws, undermining decades of progress on crucial issues like clean air, clean water, and climate change. This disastrous decision represents a major setback for environmental justice and public health. SCOTUS has now empowered judges to substitute their own policy preferences for those of expert regulatory agencies, threatening the ability of the EPA, the Department of the Interior, and other bodies to fulfill their mandates.

This is a particular blow for marginalized communities on the frontlines of environmental degradation. For decades, federal agencies have used their interpretive authority to promulgate rules and regulations that protect low-income communities and communities of color from the disproportionate impacts of pollution, toxic waste, and climate change [2]. The Chevron deference doctrine was a crucial tool in this fight for environmental justice.

Now, with this decision, polluting industries will be able to wage endless legal challenges against common-sense safeguards, confident that sympathetic judges will be willing to second-guess the scientific and policy judgments of expert agencies. This will have devastating consequences. As the dissenting justices wrote, the ruling “calls into question” the legality of “the very rules that protect our air, water, and climate” [3].

The stakes could not be higher. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that we are running out of time to address the climate crisis and avert catastrophic warming [4]. EPA regulations, driven by the agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act, have been a cornerstone of America’s climate action in recent years. By gutting the EPA’s authority, this heinous decision puts these vital efforts in jeopardy.

At the same time, the ruling imperils clean air and clean water safeguards that are essential for public health, especially in disadvantaged communities. Even before this decision, communities of color and low-income communities were far more likely to live in areas with high levels of air pollution, lead contamination, and other environmental hazards [5]. Now, with the courts free to second-guess the EPA’s science-driven standards, these disparities are likely to grow worse.

This is a pivotal moment in the struggle for environmental justice. The SCOTUS decision represents a grave threat to the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities nationwide. But we refuse to be discouraged. We know that the arc of history bends towards justice, and we will not rest until the courts recognize the EPA’s rightful role as the defender of our air, our water, and our climate.

LaTricea D. Adams, MAT, EdS, Founder CEO & President, Young, Gifted & Green and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council Appointee

Sources:

[1] Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).

[2] Bullard, R. D. (2000). Dumping in Dixie: Race, class, and environmental quality. Westview Press.

[3] Chevron v. EPA, No. 22-CV-138, slip op. at 1 (U.S. June 29, 2024) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).

[4] IPCC. (2021). Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

[5] Tessum, C. W., Paolella, D. A., Chambliss, S. E., Apte, J. S., Hill, J. D., & Marshall, J. D. (2021). PM2. 5 polluters disproportionately and systemically affect people of color in the United States. Science Advances, 7(18), eabf4491.

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