News In Brief

The US Supreme Court delivered an important victory to federal agencies and their power to enact tough new regulations, the Monitor's Warren Richey reports from Washington.

The justices decided Congress did not surrender too much authority to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when it empowered federal bureaucrats to set new clean-air standards based solely on the possible health effects of pollution. Industry groups and some state governments had complained that the agency also should consider the technical feasibility of industry compliance with new air-pollution standards and the possible costs associated with compliance.

The justices struck down as unreasonable the EPA's implementation policy for the portion of the regulations dealing with ozone. The agency must rewrite those regulations, the court ruled.

The decision is most significant, however, for what the court declined to do. The justices rejected an appeals court's conclusion that the new air-pollution regulations were invalid because Congress turned over too much power to federal bureaucrats.

The so-called nondelegation doctrine is a constitutional principle that largely has gone unused since the 1930s. It stands for the idea that Congress alone has the power to pass legislation and make critical policy judgments and that federal lawmakers may not delegate that power to agencies of the executive branch.

In a unanimous vote, the justices ruled the nondelegation doctrine was not implicated in the case. "We have almost never felt qualified to second-guess Congress regarding the permissible degree of policy judgment that can be left to those executing or applying the law," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.

Some Senate Republicans unveiled proposals designed to increase and diversify US energy supplies - the most controversial being one for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Environmentalists criticized many of the proposals, particularly the oil-drilling measure, arguing they gave short shrift to energy conservation and environmental protection. Still, the legislation contains incentives for researching cleaner energy technologies and provides a tax break for buying ultra-efficient vehicles, homes, and appliances.

Three new reports on the economy all contained negative findings:

* Consumer confidence fell this month to its lowest level in more than four years, the Conference Board said. An official with the New York-based group said the drop was fueled by pessimism about business and employment conditions. The index has fallen for five consecutive months.

* Despite cheaper mortgage rates, sales of new homes plummeted by 10.9 percent in January, the biggest decline in seven years. The drop, as reported by the Commerce Department, was twice as large as expected.

* Orders to US factories for big-ticket items plunged last month by 6 percent to its lowest level in 19 months, the Commerce Department also said. But orders for industrial machinery, including computers, rose a solid 5.7 percent, the biggest increase in a year.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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