Congress gave away its authority
Members of Congress angry about how the president plans to work around them and pursue his climate change agenda through executive orders have only themselves to blame. The president did not usurp their authority. They gave it to him.
For decades, Congress has been delegating its authority to make federal laws. It passes vague laws, setting broad goals and giving authority to one or more federal agencies to develop the regulations that will pursue those goals.
It seems good to members of Congress because it keeps them from having to learn enough about any specific issue in order to vote on the actual regulations. It also gives them plausible deniability. If a constituent complains about a set of regulations, the representative or senator can claim that he or she didn’t vote for those regulations. They were written by a federal agency.
The Clean Air Act is a perfect example. Before climate change was a popular issue, Congress passed the bill authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency to develop regulations to limit air pollution.
As climate change emerged as an issue, the EPA denied the bill authorized it to limit carbon dioxide as air pollution. A group of states concerned about the issue wanted to make an end run around Congress and the administration of George W. Bush. They sued to force the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.
Two years later, the EPA released a finding that greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide) endanger the health and safety of Americans. In 2012, a U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that finding.
All this set the stage for President Barack Obama’s speech in which he declared that he will issue executive orders and demand that the EPA use this authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Many members of Congress reacted with outrage. They declared that Obama’s plans will hurt the economy, close power plants and cost jobs. They are unhappy with his plans to use the EPA’s authority to accomplish this without action by Congress.
But they set the stage for this themselves. Federal regulations are the same as federal laws. They must be obeyed, and when they are violated, there are criminal penalties. Congress, the lawmaking body of the federal government, has the power to make these laws.
Obama did not take this authority away from Congress. Congress gave it to him when it passed a law authorizing the EPA, an executive branch agency, to develop regulations regarding air pollution. Congress delegated its authority to an agency controlled by the president. Now its members complain that the president is going to use the authority they gave him.
Members of Congress may be right about the effects of Obama’s plan. They are correct when they complain that he is circumventing Congress. But that is their fault.
Congress should stop empowering bureaucrats to do its job. Federal laws and regulations should be passed by Congress. If lawmakers want to let experts draw up regulations, they should at least require those experts to submit the regulations to Congress for approval before they become law.
If Congress had done so, it wouldn’t find itself ignored on this issue.
From The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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