The Regulators Still Hold All the Cards: The SJC Affirms DEP’s Regulatory Authority Over Cooling Water Intake Structures

Sometimes I’m so timely I can’t stand it. This morning, I posted about the difficulty in challenging regulations under Massachusetts law. Later this morning, the SJC agreed. In Entergy v. DEP, the SJC upheld DEP’s authority to regulate cooling water intake structures under the state CWA. Funny how the SJC cited to the same language here as did Judge Sweeney in the Pepin case.

We will apply all rational presumptions in favor of the validity of the administration action and not declare it void unless its provisions cannot by any reasonable construction be interpreted in harmony with the legislative mandate.

Entergy argued that the statute and DEP’s regulations under it have always focused on discharges of pollutants, rather than intake of water. This was not persuasive to the SJC. The Court stated that

[T]he permitting regime for discharges does not foreclose the department from developing compatible methods of regulating water intakes…. Specific statutory authority to act in a particular respect does not bar consistent action under general statutory authority.

The Court’s bottom line? 

We will not substitute our judgment as to the need for a regulation, or the propriety of the means chosen to implement the statutory goals, for that of the agency, so long as the regulation is rationally related to those goals. [T]he purpose of conferring broad power on an expert agency is to permit discretion in determining the best approaches to a complex issue.”

I think that the SJC probably got this case right based on its own precedents. However, the Court’s last statement is almost breathtaking in its scope. Has there ever been a clearer or broader defense of the modern administrative state? With a statement like that, could one imagine the SJC ever concluding that the legislature delegated too much authority to the regulatory agencies? And yet, as conservatives sometimes note, it is the legislators, and not the agency personnel, who are elected and who are supposed to make the big picture decisions.

Jefferson would be turning over in his grave.

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