PRESS RELEASE: Save the Sound responds to SCOTUS decision weakening agency powers

Adding to pattern of undermining regulations for environmental protections 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Supreme Court delivered a decision [] in the companion cases of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Department of Commerce, overturning the Chevron deference doctrine—diminishing federal agencies’ ability to set and enforce policies, including vital environmental and public health protections. This principle of administrative law deferred interpretation of ambiguous parts of statutes to an expert federal agency. In the underlying case, a fishing company disputed the cost allocation for on-board monitors for a fisheries management plan created to prevent overfishing. 

The midwater trawling fishery company challenged a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a federal agency housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, requiring the largest fishing vessels to bear some of the costs of at-sea observers to obtain data about the Atlantic herring fishery. Industrial vessels targeting Atlantic herring also capture accidental “bycatch” including river herring, a species experiencing sharp declines despite extensive river restoration efforts across Connecticut. On-board observers are necessary to uncover causes of overfishing to guide policy decisions that will support sustainable fish populations for the fisheries businesses, the health of ecosystems, and food security.  

Save the Sound along with others had filed an amicus or “friend of the court” brief with the Supreme Court, arguing that the decision regarding funding of on-board monitors was consistent with the statute and longstanding agency interpretation. Today’s Supreme Court decision chose not to directly address the fisheries question, instead remanding the cases back to Circuit Court while overturning the underlying Chevron doctrine. 

“This is the latest in a string of Supreme Court decisions decimating agency powers to protect the environment and human health,” said Roger Reynolds, senior legal director, Save the Sound. “This decision will not only impact the National Marine Fisheries Service’s ability to protect fish stocks from over-fishing, but by overruling the Chevron doctrine, it will upend the longstanding constitutional balance between federal agencies and the judiciary, with the Supreme Court taking more power to make policy decisions for itself. Instead of the single most expert agency interpreting ambiguous sections of statutes, it will be left to the more than 1,500 federal judges who are generalists rather than specialists in their field and who are often in conflict with each other. This will make it increasingly hard for governments to address complex issues such as climate change and to perform their core functions of protecting public health and the environment.”   

The decision builds upon and extends recent decisions from the court’s conservative majority that constrain agency ability to interpret and enforce environmental laws. In last year’s Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, the majority redefined “Waters of the United States” in a way that was inconsistent with decades of agency interpretation from multiple administrations and removed many waters from Clean Water Act jurisdiction. In 2022’s West Virginia v. EPA, the majority overruled what EPA found to be the “best system of emission reduction” under the Clean Air Act to address climate change, instead choosing to protect dirtier sources such as coal.  

Reynolds said, “The Court’s ruling is detrimental to the informed regulation of our natural resources, overturning a 40-year-old Supreme Court rule that has provided expert agencies appropriate latitude to protect endangered species and critical habitats, as well as make progress towards clean water and air for the Long Island Sound region and across the United States. Focus must now shift to mitigating the impacts of these decisions by strengthening protections and enforcement at the state and regional level to compensate for these federal rollbacks.”  

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