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Naïve Administrative Law: Complexity, Delegation and Climate Policy

The Supreme Court’s ongoing efforts to narrow the contours of administrative agencies’ policymaking discretion comes at a particularly inopportune time. The nation faces a set of increasingly complex and pressing national problems, including climate change, that require the simultaneous application of careful deliberation and expertise, something Congress is ill-suited to do in the best of times—but particularly so in this hyper-polarized era. Were the Court to fully embrace the Major Questions Doctrine, it would likely render environmental and energy regulators powerless to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the energy sector under their enabling statutes, despite the centrality of that task to their missions and plausible arguments that Congress has already delegated them that power. It would also call into question the legitimacy of many other existing regulatory regimes, throwing regulatory policy into chaos. The Doctrine draws a flawed distinction between policymaking and policy implementation based upon the economic and political significance of the decisions involved; if there is a useful distinction to be made between those two activities, it rests on the distinction between ends and means, the what questions and the how questions. The Framers’ design requires that Congress be able to delegate these difficult, complex, contentious “how” questions to the executive branch. Now more than ever, regulatory agencies—not Congress—can best produce decisions that reflect the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

This Symposium issue is made possible in part by our Platinum Symposium Sponsor Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.