Supreme Court curbs EPA’s power to regulate power plant emissions

The court’s decision could complicate the government’s plans to release a proposal that would regulate power plant emissions.

WASHINGTON — In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday restricted how the nation’s top air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

By a vote of 6 to 3 and a Conservative majority, the court said the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

The decision, environmentalists and dissenting Liberal judges said, was a big step in the wrong direction – “a punch in the stomach,” said a prominent meteorologist – at a time of mounting environmental damage attributed to climate change amid dire warnings of the Future.

The court’s ruling could complicate the government’s plans to combat climate change. His detailed proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year. Although the decision was specific to the EPA, it was consistent with the conservative majority’s skepticism about regulators’ power and sent a message about possible future impacts beyond climate change and air pollution.

The decision set an exclamation mark on a term during which a conservative majority, backed by three appointments from former President Donald Trump, also repealed nearly 50-year-old nationwide abortion rights, expanded gun rights and made major rulings on religious rights. everywhere liberal disagreements.

President Joe Biden wants to halve the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and have a zero-emission energy sector by 2035. Power plants account for about 30% of carbon emissions.

“Limiting carbon emissions to levels that will force a nationwide transition away from using coal for power generation may be a reasonable ‘solution to the crisis of the day,'” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the court.

But Roberts wrote that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA the authority to do so and that Congress needs to be clear on the issue.

“A decision of such magnitude and scope rests with Congress itself or an agency acting under a clear delegation from that representative body,” he wrote.

In a dissent, Judge Elena Kagan wrote that the decision stripped the EPA of the powers Congress gave it to respond to “the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”

Kagan said the stakes in the case are high. She said: “The court appoints itself – instead of Congress or the expert agency – as the decision-maker in climate policy. I can’t think of anything scarier.”

Biden called the ruling in a statement “another devastating decision designed to push back our country.”

And EPA chief Michael Regan said his agency would proceed with a rule to impose environmental standards on the energy sector.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric also chimed in, calling the decision “a setback in our fight against climate change when we are already way off track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,” the international climate accord , which the US left during the Trump administration and rejoined when Biden took office.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who led the EPA agency’s legal challenge, said, “The EPA can no longer bypass Congress to exercise broad regulatory powers that would radically transform the nation’s energy grid and force states to to fundamentally shift their energy portfolios away from coal-fired generation.”

But University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society, said of the decision: “It feels like a punch in the gut for critical efforts to address the climate crisis, which has the potential Risking lives for decades Come on.”

Richard Revesz, an environmental expert at New York University School of Law, called the decision “a significant setback for protecting the environment and protecting public health.”

But he also said in a statement that the EPA still has the authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector.

EPA Administrator Regan said the agency will “proceed lawfully to establish and implement environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental harm.”

Senate Democratic Chairman Chuck Schumer of New York said the fallout from Thursday’s decision “will impact the entire federal government, from regulating food and medicines to our nation’s healthcare system, which will endanger all American lives.” .

The court ruled that Congress must speak with certainty if it is to grant any agency the power to regulate a matter of major national importance.

Several conservative judges have criticized what they see as uncontrolled power by federal agencies.

Those concerns were evident in the court’s orders, which overturned two Biden administration policies aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Last summer, the Conservative majority of the court ended a pause in evictions over unpaid rent by a score of 6-3. In January, the same six judges blocked a requirement that workers at major employers be regularly vaccinated or tested and wear a mask at work.

Underlying all of these problems is a lack of action by Congress, reflecting bitter, partisan disagreements over the federal government’s role.

On the environmental front, Biden’s signature plan to fight the climate, a sweeping social and environmental bill called Build Back Better, is all but dead in the face of combined opposition from Republicans in Congress and conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of coal-state West Virginia.

In a slimmed-down version, the Democrat-backed legislation would offer tax credits and spending to encourage renewable energies like wind and solar, and to greatly increase the number of electric vehicles.

Judges heard arguments in the case on the same day that a report by a United Nations panel warned that the effects of climate change are getting much worse and are likely to make the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and more dangerous in the years to come.

The power plant case has a long and complicated history, beginning with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. This plan would have required states to reduce emissions from electricity generation, primarily by moving away from coal-fired power plants.

But this plan never came to fruition. The Supreme Court blocked a 2016 lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others by a 5-4 vote, with Conservatives in the majority.

After the plan was shelved, litigation continued over it. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA rescinded the Obama-era plan. The Trump agency argued that its powers to cut carbon emissions were limited, and it drafted a new plan that severely limited the federal government’s role in the matter.

New York, 21 other mostly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the country’s largest cities sued the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in place while the new administration drafted new policy.

In addition to the unusual nature of the High Court’s involvement, the reductions targeted by the Obama plan by 2030 have already been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal-fired power plants.

Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the Supreme Court battle against the EPA’s sweeping authority to regulate carbon emissions. Supreme Court curbs EPA’s power to regulate power plant emissions

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