Source: Bloomberg Law

Reporter: Jennifer Hijazi


  • EPA will argue for vehicle emissions rules on Thursday
  • Critics claim the case raises ‘major questions’

Industry attorneys are once again leveraging the major questions doctrine against cornerstone climate rules, arguing that new vehicle emission regulations fly against established authority and threaten the US power grid.

States and industry will face off against the Biden administration in Texas v. EPA, a case that pits major climate and clean air standards against what petitioners argue is an assault on grid reliability.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case on Thursday, with Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, and Judges Florence Y. Pan and Gregory G. Katsas presiding.

The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the rule in April, setting light-duty vehicle efficiency at 82 grams per mile in model year 2032—a 56% increase from 2026 levels.

Agency officials and their supporters are confident in the rule’s legal strength. They argue that the ambitious standards stem from core Clean Air Act authority and don’t trigger important political or economic issues under the major questions doctrine. Existing manufacturer plans to transition the industry to pollution-free vehicles also bolster the case for the tougher standards.

Following the Texas case, the panel will hear arguments in NRDC v. NHTSA: a related vehicles lawsuit based on different legal authority that examines the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s use of outside metrics in its fuel efficiency standards.

Major Questions?
Donahue & Goldberg attorney Sean Donahue, who is arguing in support of the car standards in Texas v. EPA, insists the benefits of the rule for public health and the climate far outweigh the costs of compliance.

“When you hear oil companies complaining that EPA should be blocked from protecting the public from vehicle emissions, recognize that they’re really protesting against the clear direction of the market,” Donahue said in a press call on Tuesday.

A coalition of Republican-led states counter that the rule compromises the electrical grid and restructures an entire industry—the same pitfalls outlined in West Virginia v. EPA, where the Supreme Court curtailed agency authority dealing with power plant carbon dioxide emissions.

The grid cannot reliably support an influx of electric vehicles, which would result from the agency essentially “forcing” manufacturers to switch to EVs, petitioners said in their briefs.

“EPA seeks to substantially restructure the American automobile market in pursuit of unauthorized climate goals,” the petitioners told the court. “Under no plausible reading of the Clean Air Act was EPA given authority to perform this restructuring.”

The court carved out time at the top of arguments to discuss whether the issue is properly before the court, and specifically noted that state attorneys “should be prepared to address whether the State Petitioners have standing.”

Even if the Biden administration prevails in this challenge, groups would likely take their petition to the Supreme Court, where justices have been sympathetic to major questions issues.

The case is Texas v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 22-01031, Oral arguments.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Hijazi in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at [email protected]; Maya Earls at [email protected]