On January 17, 2017, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017.” Buried deep within its pages is Title II, the “Separation of Powers Restoration Act.” That title, although only two sections long, dramatically changes the legal landscape for challenges to the actions of federal regulatory agencies. Currently, in adjudicating challenges to administrative rulemaking and implementing actions, the federal courts invoke the precedent established in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837, 844 (1984). In that case, the Supreme Court held: “We have long recognized that considerable weight should be accorded to an executive department’s construction of a statutory scheme it is entrusted to administer…” In adopting Chevron, the Supreme Court effectively gives administrative agencies almost complete deference, not only in the interpretation of the regulations they implemented, but also, and more controversially, in the way the agencies carry out the mandates of those regulations. Thus, challengers seeking to use the judicial system to point out and rectify what are perceived as misapplication of the regulations, butt up against the reluctance of the courts to question or interfere with the agency’s construction of the regulation or the evidence and its application in carrying out the agency’s order. In Title II, the Congress has stood the current deferential standard on its head.
Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrator Lisa Jackson’s sudden resignation last week is not surprising in light of the recent revelations about the EPA’s use of “alias” e-mail accounts, purportedly for private communications between EPA officials. The use of such “aliases,” to protect confidential agency communications, appears on the surface benign. However, in the face of the statutory mandate for Federal government transparency, represented by the Federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, et seq., (“FOIA”), it is an ominous harbinger of the secretiveness of those who are appointed to serve the American public.