The science is clear: the United States and the world must take dramatic action to address climate change or face irreversible, catastrophic planetary harm. Within the U.S.—the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gas emissions—this will require passing new legislation or turning to existing statutes and authorities to address the climate crisis. Doing so implicates existing and prospective delegations of legislative authority to a large swath of administrative agencies. Yet congressional climate decision-making delegations to any executive branch agency must not dismiss the newly resurgent nondelegation doctrine. Described by some scholars as the “most dangerous idea in American law,” the nondelegation doctrine prohibits Congress from delegating its legislative authority to the executive branch absent an intelligible principle to guide implementation. Failure to fully take into account possible nondelegation challenges could stop forward-looking climate action in its tracks. This Article addresses the contours of the nondelegation doctrine as applied to future climate action. In doing so, it argues that climate change and its associated impacts are a complex collective action problem that implicate Article II authorities independent of congressional lawmaking. These authorities may provide an avenue through which climate action can be taken irrespective of the limits imposed by the nondelegation doctrine. As prospective climate solutions emerge, the nondelegation doctrine lurks in the background. Climate action must therefore be reconciled with presidential foreign relations, national security, and emergency authorities—three areas where the President is afforded significant, but not absolute deference.
This Symposium issue is made possible in part by our Platinum Symposium Sponsor Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.