Federal judge rejects Biden administration climate rule for highway system

 March 31, 2024

In a significant blow to the Biden administration's climate change agenda, a federal judge in Texas last week struck down a rule mandating that states measure and implement decreasing targets for vehicle emissions on the country's highway system as Reuters reports.

The ruling was handed down by U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, who sided with the state of Texas in finding that the rule itself was “unauthorized.”

Background of case

As Reuters noted, Texas filed suit against the Biden Department of Transportation (DOT) late last year, contending that the agency did not possess sufficient authority to put the rule at issue into place.

The rule in question, promulgated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) under the auspices of the DOT, mandated that states measure transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions on highways and establish lower targets for carbon dioxide, reporting on benchmarks along the way.

In defending the rule, the FHWA argued that it did not dictate just how low emissions needed to go and said that it permitted state departments of transportation sufficient to set its own targets, provided the overall goal of reduced emissions was at the forefront.

The agency further stated that the rule was a critical component of the administration's 2025 “net-zero” emissions target, despite the fact that the rule itself did not force states to align their targets to keep true to such a timeline, but even so, Texas asserted that the scheme was unlawful, a claim with which 21 other states clearly agreed, filing a separate, but similar suit.

Hendrix holds forth

In ruling in favor of Texas, Judge Hendrix declared, according to the Daily Wire, “A federal administrative agency cannot act without congressional authorization.”

“Here, the Federal Highway Administration created a rule requiring the states to measure, report, and set declining targets for the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles using the interstate and national-highway systems,” Hendrix went on.

The judge continued, “Texas sued, alleging that the agency lacked authority to enact the rule. Given the statutory text's plain language and context, the Court agrees.”

Hendrix went on to state that for the federal agency to require states to engage in greenhouse gas measurement, Congress would need to amend the relevant federal law pertaining to the highway system or pass a new statutory scheme altogether.

Reactions pour in

Unsurprisingly, the highway administration was disappointed by the outcome, with a representative suggesting that officials were in the process of reviewing Hendrix's ruling and determining potential next steps, according to The Hill.

The agency spokesperson underscored the administration's unwavering commitment to fighting back against what it views as the threat of climate change.

Republicans, however, were pleased with the decision issued by Hendrix, with Reps. Sam Graves (MO) of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Rick Crawford (AR) of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee declaring, “This was a clear case of blatant overreach by the Biden Administration from the beginning, and we commend the Court for its ruling that a 'federal administrative agency cannot act without congressional authorization.'”

The lawmakers added, “Congress rejected the inclusion of a GHG performance measure requirement when the infrastructure law was developed, making the Administration's rule an unlawful attempt to circumvent Congress and force this one-size-fits-all burden upon every state and community across the country.”

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