We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 


We’re leading an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.

Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

What Is the Chevron Doctrine? The Big Climate Case You Might Not Know About.

The fossil-backed Supreme Court just delivered a major blow to climate, health, and democracy

Supreme Court building with power plants in the background.

Update (June 28, 2024)

The MAGA-majority Supreme Court dismantled the Chevron doctrine, reducing the authority of agency experts, like EPA. This major setback compromises climate and health protections for the American people and empowers corporate polluters. However, the fight is not over, and Evergreen will continue to close industry loopholes, protect bedrock environmental laws, and deliver the policies we need to defeat the climate crisis.



Later this month, there’s a good chance that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hand the fossil-backed Koch network a big win by making it much easier for right-wing judges to overturn environmental, public health, and climate standards. The Koch network bankrolled a case that would allow SCOTUS to overturn a bedrock legal principle, the “Chevron doctrine” (also known as “Chevron deference”) that has the Court defer to reasonable agency legal interpretations. 

If that doctrine is overturned or limited, Trump’s judicial appointees will try to run roughshod over agency experts with their own MAGA readings of the law. Here’s a look into Big Oil’s plans and how we can fight back.


What is the Chevron Doctrine?

Let’s start with an irony: The doctrine at issue comes from a case in which SCOTUS ruled in favor of the Chevron oil company. That case concerned EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act as it applied to Chevron. The Court decided that EPA’s experts were the best at interpreting complex and ambiguous statutes and that the Court should generally defer to expert agencies if their readings were reasonable. (Thus, the name Chevron deference.)

That made sense: Agency experts are hired to help implement complex and technical laws. It was a good and conservative principle for non-technical judges to give agencies first crack, and step in only when they went off the rails. That’s been the law for decades.

The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Scheme to Undo Chevron

Since then, EPA and other agencies have made real progress in addressing the climate crisis. However, simultaneously, the fossil fuel industry has been quietly and steadily attempting to quash this headway and undermine EPA by stacking the court with its hand-picked MAGA justices, nominated by Donald Trump.

Fossil fuel companies have plotted to change the law to let Trump’s judges step in with their own right-wing legal interpretations, no matter what the experts say. They have pulled out all the stops. The same fossil fuel interests that own the GOP have worked hard to take over the Supreme Court. Is it any wonder those interests are getting an eager hearing from the justices appointed by the same former president (and now felon) who demanded $1 billion from oil executives for his campaign?

The fact that right-wing justices were almost all appointed by Presidents who lost the minority vote, and confirmed by Senators who represent less than half the country demonstrates that the Supreme Court is now well out of step with a public that demands climate action. It’s a club of elite Republicans who violate ethical norms with impunity, and who won’t step down despite apparent ties to the January 6 insurrection

And now that Court is getting ready to rule on Big Oil’s big case.


The “Relentless” Power Grab: The Case That Could Undo the Doctrine

With their justices in place, these fossil interests funded an effort to bring Trojan horse cases to the Supreme Court to clear the way to attack the whole administrative state. In the aptly named “Relentless” case (and a companion case called Loper-Bright), herring fishermen—handpicked and bankrolled by fossil fuel special interests like billionaire Charles Koch—are challenging an administrative fee to help stop overfishing.  And that fee? It isn’t even in force anymore

Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, and a catch of herring fish.

The Koch network is exploiting a case brought by herring fishermen in an attempt to overturn the Chevron doctrine. (Left: Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch. © 2016 Fortune Brainstorm Tech/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Right: Herring fish.)

This isn’t a case a normal court would take. But because that defunct fee was established and upheld using the standard agency deference approach, the MAGA justices are eager to use it as a tool to blow up the entire doctrine. In a few weeks, we’ll know if they had the votes to succeed.

Trump’s justices have already indicated that they are eager to overturn Chevron. If they get their way, judges could blow right past agency experts and hand down decisions fed to them by Big Oil. The Supreme Court keeps coming up with new doctrines to make it harder to protect the public. It’s made up rules and puts its thumb on the scale to keep coal power alive. It’s blown up basic clean water protections. Leading legal scholars say SCOTUS is trying to make itself an “imperial” final decision-maker above Congress and the president in the service of MAGA causes and decry the Supreme Court for destroying settled environmental law. Big Oil is getting what it paid for.


How We Hold the Supreme Court Accountable

Whether SCOTUS blows up administrative law this June or keeps going with a death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy, it is a fossil-funded enemy to the climate and the public. The only way to change course is by calling it what it is—corruption aimed at climate action—and addressing it at its root. 

Fossil interests funded the presidents who appointed these justices; they funded the case before them, and they stand by to profit handsomely from the outcome. We need to pressure those networks and their backers directly. That means resisting their well-funded attacks with our own organizing and doubling down on ethics reforms, efforts to expand the Court, and other reforms that can restore balance and integrity to the Supreme Court.

Despite the Court’s skew, Evergreen and the environmental movement will do everything we can to publicly call out the Supreme Court and insist that climate rules are well within the law. We will also review which of the fossil fuel interests’ favorite policies are backed by these deference doctrines and urge agencies to scrap them in response to a bad ruling. If we do not need to defer to agencies anymore, Evergreen will insist that the plain text of our public health and environmental laws supports ambition, not retreat.

This is also a moment for corporations to affirmatively choose a climate-safe future. No CEO planning to prosper in the emerging global clean economy can afford the Supreme Court’s endless legal zigzags and uncertainty. That’s why, for instance, car and truck makers have repeatedly announced their commitments to electrification no matter what the Supreme Court does.

Other industries, including the wavering utility sector, should likewise stop wasting time discovering what Justice Sam Alito thinks James Madison thought about solar panels and instead start ramping up clean energy deployments. Federal, state, and local governments should also charge forward with clear plans to deploy billions in climate investments. The more public and private investments are locked, and the more steel in the ground, the better. The best answer to the Supreme Court’s attack on climate is to make it irrelevant by doing the right thing anyway.

Ultimately, to take back the Supreme Court, we need to win the 2024 election. If the court keeps delegitimizing itself, while attacking basic freedoms and a safe climate, it can and should be forced to face the judgment of the people.