HomeCarbon NewsSupreme Court Limits EPA's Power Over Carbon Emissions

Supreme Court Limits EPA’s Power Over Carbon Emissions

The US Supreme Court ruling favored the major coal-producing states while limiting EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions.

The court’s 6-3 decision supported West Virginia over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The 6 right-wing justices favored the Republican states and dominated the SC ruling.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. led the majority. He said that it’s not the EPA but the Congress that has the authority to make decisions on fighting climate change.

Three court’s liberals Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented.

Regulating Carbon Emissions

It’s the most important climate change case to come before the SC in over a decade. The case got support from other Republican-led states such as Texas and Kentucky.

But the Biden administration believes it was unusual as it was after the Clean Power Plan. It’s the strategy of the Obama administration to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants that never came into effect.

The current administration sought to dismiss the case as baseless given the plan never took effect.

But the Supreme Court decided to side with West Virginia which is a major coal mining state. The winning state argued that the EPA doesn’t have the power to reshape its economy by restricting carbon pollution.

Justice Roberts wrote:

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible solution to the crisis of the day… But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme…”

He also added that a decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or on an agency it directly forms.

Other conservative justices who joined Roberts are Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Limiting the government’s power to regulate

The SC ruling reflects the conservative court’s doubt of the federal agency’s regulatory ability. More so when it comes to regulations that go beyond what Congress had authorized.

The outcome hinders broader rules governing the states’ emissions targets and how to hit them. And it can also have sweeping effects on the federal government’s power to set standards and regulate other areas. These include clean air and water, workplace safety and public health

Others believe that it serves as a critical moment for the conservatives aiming to break up the regulatory state. They criticize what they think is the unchecked power of federal agencies.

And so, they decided to go against the EPA and strip it the power Congress gave it to respond to climate change.

In a sense, it may change what the federal government of America is and what it does. Plus, it can also leave technical decisions to a political body that may not understand them as justice Kagan wrote.

“Of course, members [of Congress] can and do provide overall direction. But then they rely, as all of us rely in our daily lives, on people with greater expertise and experience… Those people are found in agencies.”

Environmentalists are rooting for regulations that help tackle climate change. But opposition from the Congress is always there.

For instance, the SC ruling in 2007 also had the same fate. The court ruled that GHG were air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act of the 1970s.

Then Obama came into office and the EPA was tasked to fight the climate crisis by regulating power plants. The EPA relied on a provision in the Clean Air Act calling to reduce pollution through the “best system of emissions reduction.”

And so the Obama plan came about. Under it, states have to cut their carbon emissions in the most effective way. This includes shifting away from coal-fired power plants to going for solar and wind power.

But the SC ruling in a 5-4 decision prevented Obama’s plan to take effect.

  • Then the Biden administration promised to come up with similar regulations over power plants. It vowed to cut US emissions in half by 2030 as it rejoins the Paris Agreement.

Over a dozen other Democratic-led states, along with large firms like Apple and Google, supported Biden. They’re also calling for a transition to renewable energy.

But the recent court ruling that limits the EPA’s power to regulate carbon emissions dampens that pledge. West Virginia and other Republican-led states have won the court’s favor not to force emissions reductions.

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