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The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Friday that overturned the landmark “Chevron doctrine” may give Wyoming an advantage when mounting court challenges for and against federal regulations and actions on issues ranging from wildlife and land management to energy development and industrial emissions.

Gov. Mark Gordon and Wyoming's congressional delegation have hailed the ruling as a clear legal advantage in fighting federal agency actions they don't like. But the ruling doesn't necessarily hand Wyoming — or anybody else who sues federal agencies — a clear path to victory in court, according to several Wyoming and out-of-state observers.

Wyoming has much at stake. Forty-eight percent of the land and 68% of the mineral estate are managed by the federal government and the Equality State has many active grievances against federal agencies now active in the courts. Since 2019, Gordon’s administration has initiated or participated in at least 57 lawsuits either challenging federal natural resources policies, or defending federal positions from litigation brought by public health and conservation groups, according to a list of lawsuits his office provided to Pedrodiniz.

The Chevron doctrine

The Chevron doctrine, established by a 1984 Supreme Court ruling, instructed lower courts to defer to the expertise within agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their interpretation of carrying out laws passed by Congress. Those laws — like the Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act — frequently do not reach into the weeds on scientific matters such as what qualifies as critical habitat or measuring ambient air quality, for example.

Under Chevron, deference to federal agencies' interpretation wasn't automatic, but applied when an agency attempted to reasonably interpret an ambiguous statute.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan talks with a reporter Aug. 9, 2023 while visiting the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources. (Dustin Bleizeffer/Pedrodiniz)

Now that the doctrine is overturned, courts may make their own interpretation of congressional intent. But that still won't erase decades of case law, or statutory precedent, much of which is based on those agencies' past interpretations and court actions, observers say.

“I think [courts are] going to struggle with it because they don't have subject-matter expertise in these very intricate, technical aspects of the everyday life of an agency,” Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council Attorney Shannon Anderson said.

Political reaction

Gordon, however, hailed what he described as a “victory for common-sense regulatory reform.”

Gov. Mark Gordon testifies before the House Committee on Natural Resources on June 15, 2023. (Gov. Mark Gordon’s office)

“For years, unelected bureaucrats running federal agencies in Washington D.C. have used [Chevron] ‘deference' as an excuse to target certain industries based on politics,” Gordon said in a prepared statement Friday. “Wyoming has experienced that firsthand. Limiting their power to overreach is cause for celebration, and this ruling begins that process.”

While not a party to the suit, Wyoming filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, which was the basis for overturning the Chevron doctrine. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) and Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyoming) also signed on to another amicus brief in the case.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming). (U.S. Senate Photographic Studio/Courtesy)

“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to restore decision-making power back to democratically-elected members of Congress just as our Founding Fathers intended rather than allowing D.C. bureaucrats to rule with an iron fist,” Lummis said in a prepared statement.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a major victory for getting Washington out of Wyoming,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said in a prepared statement. “For too long unelected, unaccountable Washington bureaucrats have gone unchecked.”

Other parties who’ve tracked efforts to overturn the Supreme Court’s 40-year-old precedent aren’t so sure that it’s a clear-cut victory for industry-aligned conservative western states like Wyoming that often rail against federal regulation.

A smaller victory?

“I don't think there's been a lot of really deep thinking on their side about what [the loss of Chevron] actually means,” said Brett Hartl, an attorney who heads government relations for the Center for Biological Diversity. “They almost were captured by their own ideological premise more than factual reality.”

It’s possible, he said, that the court’s decision will ultimately have the effect of strengthening some environmental laws, though it could be “many years” before the true consequences are made clear.

“Some laws — like the Endangered Species Act — are actually very clear and very strong and have a very obvious meaning,” Hartl said. “Myself … and other organizations would actually argue that, if anything, the Fish and Wildlife Service has interpreted the [Endangered Species Act] weaker than what the law actually requires.”

A pronghorn sizes up an intruder in its habitat within the confines of a Sublette County gas field in 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/Pedrodiniz)

As courts, instead of federal agencies, take more of a role interpreting environmental statutes, the strengths of the laws themselves may become more important, he said. To illustrate the point, Hartl compared the National Forest Management Act with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The former, which is considered a stronger law, governs U.S. Forest Service lands while the latter, perceived as weaker, has bearing on Bureau of Land Management property.

“So the loss of Chevron may make it easier to have protections for Forest Service lands than BLM lands,” Hartl said.

No immediate effects

Dessa Reimer, a Jackson-based attorney with Holland and Hart, does not foresee “immediate” on-the-ground changes in Wyoming stemming from the high court’s decision. The Chevron standard of review, she pointed out, does not necessarily implicate most federal agency permitting and decision making.

“For example, the Converse County Oil and Gas Project or Chokecherry Wind or the BLM’s Rock Springs RMP: Those aren't notice-and-comment rulemaking, so when someone challenges those types of agency decisions, Chevron deference was not applied,” she said.

The immediate effect, Reimer believes, relates to how courts review agency rulemaking. “And there has been a slew of agency rulemaking under the Biden Administration coming out this year that’s already been challenged,” she said.

The BLM’s Public Lands Rule is one example. The measure, which puts land conservation on even footing with other land uses, has been targeted by Wyoming and Utah in a legal challenge.

Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning poses in Casper in 2022. The BLM’s Public Lands Rule could be more vulnerable to being challenged now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the Chevron doctrine. (Katie Klingsporn/Pedrodiniz)

Typically, federal agency rules and actions swing wildly between Democratic and Republican administrations: The EPA's stance on regional haze and the BLM's direction on federal coal leasing in the Powder River Basin are prime examples. But within the Supreme Court's new ruling overturning the Chevron doctrine is the notion that courts might equalize those wild administrative swings in policy direction, according to University of Wyoming College of Law Professor Sam Kalen.

“What SCOTUS did say is, where there has been what's called statutory precedent that had a court already affirming an interpretation, under a deference standard or not, the court said, ‘We'll still likely give that stare decisis precedent,'” Kalen told Pedrodiniz. “So it doesn't automatically mean that all those old cases justify revisiting.”

A lot of litigants will try, however.

“I guarantee you that litigants are going to try to revisit a lot of cases now,” Kalen said. “The way I look at it is as a threat to the administrative state.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify the application of the Chevron doctrine. —Ed

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining Pedrodiniz, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

Dustin Bleizeffer covers energy and climate at Pedrodiniz. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 26 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily covering the energy industry in...

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  1. On going typical politics. TRUEFULLY were the public worried about air, water, land, ocean pollution they would not demand high speed vehicles, jet travel, plastic everything, fast food throw away containers, air conditioning, energy consuming gadgets, overpopulation, power mongering foreign policies and MUCH MORE.
    Why do the largest campaign war chests win elections? Wisely mentioned, Why do we not investigate politicians who become wealthy while in office? By the way pedrodiniz, what determines moderation from censorship?

    1. Tom. I have done many cleanups where EPA was involved. When one got into it. EPA was right in their demands. The fault laid at engineering company’s hired by client to help him. They dragged issues out. Didn’t submit plans accordingly and in time frame requested. One case on Colo River on California it had dragged on 8 years. $600,000 bill for client. I was hired wrote cleanup plan for client was accepted by EPA. WE closed site out in 6 months after start. Just closed one out with PCE/TCE OR dry cleaning chemical contamination that had dragged on since 1995. Again wrote plan. Was accepted by state/epa. We initiated plan last Aug 1. We closed site out in February of 2024. So all the time it is not the EPA or states fault. Neither is hard to work with in my vast experience.

  2. I suspect nothing much will really change. This supreme court is dumber than a truckload of logs. In my opinion, two-thirds of them should be impeached, then hanged. At a more local level, you folks elect, and reelect some real some doozies to congress...

  3. As our elected officials rage against federal government overreach, no one seems to remember that it was the passage of environmental protection legislation, the Clean Air Act, that made Wyoming's low-sulfur coal valuable and gave us prosperity for nearly half a century.

  4. “I don’t think there’s been a lot of really deep thinking on their side.......”

    Most accurate statement I've read in months.

  5. I don't believe this is going to be a good thing for anyone and the results will be a disaster for the country and us citizens. To say Congress must write ever law with out any ambiguity is impossible for Congress to think through every possible scenario is ridiculous. Congress must rely on the science and the expertise of those persons charged with carrying out the laws. This is clearly dangerous decision.

  6. The state of Wyoming is far worse than the feds. Not too long ago, the state was going to let an energy company put polluted water into a clean water well.

  7. So now we will have non-elected judges ignorant of science making decisions rather than bureaucrats who happen to be scientist and specialists in environmental matters. These judges are ultimately the same judges that determined that so-called “bump stock” automatic weapons are not machine guns. Reassured now?

  8. Good analysis. Courts will be frustrated as they try to ignore agency technical expertise and make their own analyses of whether rules fit the governing legislation. Congress could see this as an opportunity to make clear statements but “that ain't happenin'.” Agencies will still make rules and courts will still wrestle with them. Of course, if Trump fires all of the experts and no rules get made, people wanting permits and approvals will just have to wait. This is just another ill-informed ideological blow which may or may not miss its mark.

  9. If the issue were really just “expertise,” the doctrine of Chevron deference would have been fine. But in real life, it wasn’t. Unelected bureaucrats grasped for power, hiring lawyers to claim “ambiguity” in statutes which were in fact quite clear. (Is there any lawyer, anywhere, who can’t come up with a far fetched alternate interpretation of a statute?) And they then pushed through decisions based not on expertise but on politics.

    For example, in the original Chevron case, the Reagan EPA wanted to weaken, not strengthen, air pollution protections by reinterpreting the law; there was no scientific “expertise” involved. And the FCC has waffled back and forth multiple times on whether or not it had the authority to regulate the Internet, enacting and repealing rules as partisan control of the White House flipped. (There’s no “science” behind the regulations; they were bought by political contributions from Internet monopolists like Google.)

    And so it goes. Personally, I believe that abandoning Chevron will force Congress to write better laws and courts to treat expert witnesses from both sides of a case with equal respect, rather than tilting the playing field toward power hungry, politically motivated bureaucrats. But we will see.

  10. The next land mark decisions to be re-interpenetrated
    FDA 1906
    Fair Labor Standards Act 1938
    Civil Rights Act 1964
    Speedy Trial Act 1974
    Half of the people can be part right all of the time.
    And some of the people can be all right some of the time
    But all of the people can't be all right all of the time.
    You can be in my dream if I can be in yours.

  11. The Wild West is not as wild as it once was and thankfully it will not go there again. Any state that seeks the past or the status quo no matter what happens to land, water, climate and the health and welfare of the people fails ultimately. The reactionary drive to turn back the clock isn't going to prevent the future from happening. It will just put Wyoming further behind. Wake up!

  12. Good article but more depth needed on the background of the Chevron doctrine. It was a republican doctrine. Republicans sought the Chevron doctrine for regulatory stability. Courts are inconsistent. Courts are slower than Wyoming's addressing abandoned wells. The EPA head at the time of Chevron was the mother of Justice Gorsuch. Thus, in a mere forty years the republicans spun their heads off.

    1. Chevron has led to regulatory INstability as often as it has led to regulatory stability. Witness the FCC’s so-called “net neutrality” regulations, in which each political party relied on the doctrine as authorization to undo actions by the other. For real stability, we need good laws, fair courts, and less bureaucracy.

  13. The minerals and land belong to the TAXPAYERS. For the benefit of taxpayers. Both individuals/corporate. The federal government ELECTED OFFICIALS are elected by us. They are to represent us. Not forgein intruders. Let’s remind them of this fact at the Ballot box. Way too many have been getting elected by us than enriching them selfs of a $174,000 year job. I am not picking on any one party. But look at the facts. 2015 Nancy Pelosi had net worth $28 million. 2024 she has net value of $128 million!! 9 year to gain $100!!! Think about that. 2015 Liz Chaney had net worth $15 million. 2023 when fired by voters her net worth had grown to $144 million!!! Same 9 year span a net increase of $129 million!!! But our national debt keeps climbing. With these two financial wizards in DC. We should not have a national Debt. Only one way they gained this wealth and it wasn’t legal. Think about it. 2 people in Congress. Gained $229 million in wealth in 9 years. On a $174,000 salary. How did you do in same time frame?

    1. Larry Skow- please provide factual evidence and attribution to support your claims of politician's wealth accrual.

    2. You make many claims here but how can readers tell the difference between verifiable facts and an imagination-based rant? Please reference a credible source or two. Please show how you actually know that these two people were worth the amounts you are claiming, in those years. If you cannot, you are publishing misinformation. Why should a reader accept your unsourced info as true?

  14. What the decision does is allow for evidence to be heard rather than ignored by the court. That's a good start.

  15. After reading the remarks by Hageman, Barrasso, and Lummis, I sent the following to them: So are you and the rest of the ELECTED Congress going to finally do your job and pass laws that protect my food, my drugs, my air, my water, travel by train/plane/automobile, my life, the lives of my family and friends, etc? Better get busy!
    Do you think I will get responses?

    1. No, they will do nothing for you, but they will do plenty for their contributors.