One of the foundations of U.S. law, not to mention prosperity, is, in effect, that a deal's a deal. In other words, when two parties agree to a contract, it is a binding arrangement. One person cannot back out merely because he has changed his mind.
It is not the same in many other countries. Those who study economies note that the sanctity of contracts is important to a nation's prosperity. Who wants to invest money in a place where contracts can be broken at will?
Increasingly, however, the U.S. government is adopting a "do as we say, not as we do" philosophy. The government, it seems, is free to rescind regulatory approvals - in effect, contracts between Washington and private companies - whenever it chooses.
Now, the Supreme Court says there is no problem with that.
In 2007, a coal company received a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for work at a surface mine in Logan County, W.Va. Then President Barack Obama came into office and, two years after one agency of government approved the permit, another rescinded it.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, having enlisted for Obama's war on coal, rescinded the permit. That prompted the coal company to go to court.
It seemed to have a solid position. Again, how is an individual or company supposed to function when plans are made and money is spent based on a government ruling that may be changed months or years in the future, based solely on a bureaucrat's whims?
But this week, the Supreme Court refused to review the case. In effect, it backed the EPA.
As West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey pointed out, the high court's ruling "is about much more than coal. It's about private and public entities being able to have faith that when they make investments and get the necessary permits for those investments, those permits won't be yanked back years later." Morrisey's office joined officials in 26 other states in urging the Supreme Court to reverse lower court support of the EPA.
Thoughtful members of Congress, in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, understand the high court's support of the EPA sets a dangerous precedent. In both chambers, bills have been introduced to prevent the EPA from rescinding permits granted by other agencies.
Congress should approve those bills - but be prepared to override a veto by Obama.