At the start of its 2023-2024 session on Oct. 2, the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet set a date to hear arguments in a major case that could reevaluate the authority federal agencies have to interpret ambiguous language in U.S. law in rulemaking. But legal observers agree the ruling would have significant repercussions.

The case, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, will consider whether a legal doctrine established in a 1984 case, Chevron v. NRDC, should be upheld. The doctrine gives deference to federal agencies in developing regulations that interpret ambiguous federal law, as long as they are deemed “reasonable.”

Earthjustice filed an amicus brief Sept. 22 on behalf of environmental groups supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authority to require commercial fishing companies to pay the cost for monitors who ensure that the companies comply with the agency’s management plans.

Meredith Moore, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s fish conservation program, says a reversal in Loper could “hamstring the ability of scientists and civil servants to bring their professional expertise to the complex challenges that face our country.”

Construction groups disagree. 

Prianka Sharma, counsel and vice president of regulatory affairs at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, says efforts to “reign in” Chevron would force federal agencies to use more clear and specific language when crafting regulations. In comments to ENR, she points to the recent Waters of the United States rule, which includes language that could lead to disputes about what “relatively permanent” means. “Contractors need clarity,” she contends.

Maurice Baskin, general counsel for the Associated Builders and Contractors, said the decision in Loper has wide-ranging ramifications that go well beyond environmental law.

“Since many labor issues arise from the whims of administrative agencies, a favorable impact in Loper could have a big impact,” he said.