Judge Of Everything Can't Tell The Difference Between Gasses

I can’t begin to tell you just how horrible this Chevron ruling is, and as usual with the Roberts court, in an earlier ruling in which the conservatives anointed themselves final authorities on everything, they got an important detail very wrong. Via the New Republic:

On Thursday, the justices ruled in favor of Ohio and several other states that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to bring them into compliance with ozone pollution–control requirements. The justices’ ruling allows the EPA’s plan to remain paused as the states’ challenge proceeds through the courts. Laying out the context for that decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch—who authored the majority opinion—noted that the EPA “set as its target the reduction of the emissions of one ozone precursor in particular: nitrous oxide,” going on to explain that the agency “sought to impose nitrous oxide emissions control measures that ‘maximized cost-effectiveness.’”

Nitrous oxide is a colorless, odorless gas used for sedation and pain relief, commonly referred to as “laughing gas” and administered by dentists. It’s also a greenhouse gas and ozone precursor that can be generated by industrial activity, but Gorsuch presumably meant to refer to nitrogen oxides, the broader category of nitrogen-oxygen compounds that the EPA is trying to regulate through the Good Neighbor Plan. In total, Gorsuch—writing on behalf of the court’s conservative majority—mistakenly referred to nitrous oxide rather than nitrogen oxides five times in his decision.

That’s an easy enough mistake to make; I’ve written about nitrogen oxides a small handful of times insofar as they relate to federal environmental regulations, and had to look them up again to write this story. Like most people, and most judges, Gorsuch does not have specialized knowledge of chemistry or environmental science. His expertise is a fairly conventional one for Supreme Court justices: Georgetown Friends to Columbia and then on to Harvard Law, capped off by a Ph.D. in jurisprudence from Oxford. Despite these credentials, Gorsuch seemingly didn’t look closely enough at case documents to get the name of the chemical compound in question right. He didn’t google it. Opinions are circulated multiple times among the justices before being released to the public, and none of them—or their clerks—seemed to catch the mistake, either.

In just about any other document, mixing up nitrous oxide and nitrogen oxides would be an innocuous, even trivial typo; the Supreme Court eventually corrected the error. But on Friday morning, the man responsible for that error also effectively awarded himself and his colleagues veto power over ozone regulations and a whole bunch of other shit they know nothing about and don’t bother looking up. On Friday, the Court’s right-wing majority decided in Loper Bright v. Raimondo to overturn something called the Chevron doctrine or Chevron deference, which granted federal agencies the authority to interpret the laws that Congress passes. “In one fell swoop,” Justice Elena Kagan summarized in her dissent, “the majority today gives itself exclusive power over every open issue—no matter how expertise-driven or policy-laden—involving the meaning of regulatory law.”

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