While the abortion debate is front and center, climate change alarmists are all fired up about another U.S. Supreme Court opinion released last week. In West Virginia v. EPA, the court struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to pass rules aimed at curbing emissions from power plants. This may sound like it’s about the debate over how to deal with pollution, but it’s much bigger than that. The Court didn’t rule the way it did because it doesn’t like what the EPA was doing. It is saying that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to do it in the first place.
Throughout U.S. history, people have elected their members of Congress to enact laws addressing major federal issues. But over time, Congress began passing fewer and fewer laws. For those of us who think we have too many laws already, that part was a good thing. Unfortunately, federal agencies stepped in to fill the void, adopting thousands and thousands of rules that have the force of law.
There are now so many federal regulations that one civil rights attorney and author famously proclaimed that the average person commits three felonies a day. Indeed, the Federal Register that publishes all of these rules passed by non-elected bureaucracies now totals more than 70,000 pages. Stacked up, that would be higher than a two-story house. It’s literally impossible for the average person to understand how these rules impact them, much less try to comply with them all.
That’s why the recent EPA case is so important. The Supreme Court essentially said that on major questions that impact our lives, our elected representatives in Congress must pass laws or expressly grant administrative agencies the authority to regulate us in place of a federal law. Thus, agencies like the EPA can’t just “pass” their own laws without congressional approval. This comes on the heels of similar decisions restraining federal agencies, such as the case striking down the CDC’s mask mandate in airports and on airplanes and other forms of public transportation. In both instances, these agencies overstepped their authority and were put in their place by the courts.
The growing number of examples of judges imposing restraint on federal agency overreach represents a huge victory for average Americans. We elect people to Congress for a reason. They are the ones who should be held accountable for passing the laws that we have to live under. We are entitled to know who voted to impose regulations on our lives and why, so that we can hold them accountable at the ballot box. When we allow unelected bureaucrats to lord over us, there is very little we can do to hold them accountable for their actions.
Even if you agreed with the EPA’s actions on pollution or the CDC’s mask mandate, you should applaud rulings like these. Regardless of where you stand on them, your vote should matter on major policy issues. Now, hopefully more and more issues will be debated and voted on in Congress, not delegated to a faceless bureaucracy. At least reducing all those pages of federal regulations will save us some trees.
Justin Owen is president & CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s premier free market think tank.