The Supreme Court began its new session this week, embarking on what many legal analysts believe will be a term of profound importance. Many of the agenda items on the SCOTUS docket have implications for the business community. According the Chamber of Commerce, 28 of the 47 cases the Court definitely plans to address this term concern business interests in some way.
The Supreme Court will continue to accept or decline cases through December. So, right now we only have a partial look at the Court’s agenda. One certainty, however, is that progressive politicians and interests groups will be watching the Court carefully. After the last term, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka both excoriated the Court for being too “business-friendly” in its rulings.
Indeed, organized labor is facing some serious challenges at the Supreme Court this term. The two union cases before the court (Unite Here Local 355 vs. Mulhall and Harris vs. Quinn), if decided unfavorably for the unions, would hamper the ability of unions to raise dues and negotiate with employers.
Money’s role in politics continues to be of concern to the court. One of the first cases to be argued is McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, where the plaintiff, Sean McCutcheon, an owner of an electric company, is claiming that the FEC’s limits on individual’s political donations are a violation of his First Amendment rights. If McCutcheon prevails, we can expect a small group of very wealthy people, many of whom are business owners, to have an even greater role in the electoral process.
Energy Industry vs. the EPA
While many of the cases before the Court affect business interests generally, the energy industry might have the most at stake this term. There are several issues before the Court that will decide how the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate power companies.
The first concerns the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions and air quality across state lines. The Obama administration’s effort to impose stricter standards for power plants that emit pollution across state lines was hamstrung by an appellate court ruling in 2012 that decided the EPA had overstepped its authority. Environmentalists, along with many “downwind states,” petitioned the court to revisit this decision. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the EPA, it would create significant costs and operational challenges for power companies.
The second issue of importance to the power companies and their environmentalist challengers is the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. In the summer of 2012, a federal appeals court upheld the EPA’s regulatory authority over greenhouse gases, which included the “‘endangerment finding’ that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and welfare — a finding that provides the underpinning for regulation of emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks and other sources.” This decision has been challenged by several states and the Chamber of Commerce as beyond the purview of the EPA and too costly to comply with.
The Court has been reviewing the nine petitions from states and other concerned parties, on both sides of the issue, this week. We should know next week whether SCOTUS will address these complaints.
But regardless of whether the Court takes up this particular EPA case, it’s clear the docket — and how’s it’s decided — will have far-reaching ramifications for the energy industry and beyond.