US President Joe Biden’s efforts to enforce environmental regulations in the world’s second most polluting country have been hit hard by a Supreme Court ruling on air pollution.
The currently right-wing court ruling comes down in favor of challengers seeking to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate pollution from fossil-fuel power plants, which spew 30% of emissions from greenhouse gases in the country.
The six conservatives on the court were in the majority, with the three liberals dissenting.
Dissenting, Justice Kagan said in legal documents that the Supreme Court “has no idea how to deal with climate change. And let’s say the obvious: the stakes here are high.”
She called it “frightening” that “the Court names itself – instead of Congress or the expert agency – the climate policy maker.”
Justice Gorsuch, agreeing with the decision, denied this analysis, stating: “The Court recognizes only that … the people’s elected representatives in Congress are the decision-makers here – and they have not clearly granted the agency the authority it claims for itself.”
The decision undermines the ability of Mr. Biden, a Democrat, to implement climate policies without the support of congressional lawmakers, as well as his ability to live up to his ambitions to be a “climate leader”.
His administration has set a goal to decarbonize the power sector by 2035, and he took office hoping to use the EPA as the primary tool to get there.
But, speaking to Sky News two weeks ago, EPA chief Michael S. Regan said that while the case “is very important”, the president has “a number of tools in its toolbox” to fight against pollution.
In addition to going through Congress, subject to partisan divisions but more restrictive in the long term, President Biden could indirectly regulate greenhouse gases via other rules on other atmospheric pollutants.
Christina DeConcini, a lawyer and director of government affairs at the Washington DC-based World Resources Institute, said the decision “goes against the science”.
But she said the “most important thing” the United States should do to meet its climate goals would be for Congress to pass the clean energy tax credit package it is currently negotiating.
SCOTUS has been skeptical of the power of federal regulatory agencies such as the EPA — which exists within the executive branch — to operate without depending on the legislative branch of Congress for approval.
The EPA is the key authority responsible for protecting the public from pollution and other environmental toxins by regulating industry.
Last week, the same judges voted for revoke the constitutional right to choose abortionwhich has been around for nearly 50 years, paving the way for half the country to severely restrict or completely ban the practice.
West Virginia vs. EPA
Two coal companies and 17 U.S. Republican states — led by West Virginia, a major coal producer — have asked judges to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and existing gas heaters under the Clean Air Act. right.
Their challenge came after the EPA under President Barack Obama in 2015 sought to require power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – under a sweeping rule called the Clean Power Plan – primarily by turning towards clean energy sources such as solar and wind.
The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) suspended the rule in 2016, meaning there are currently no regulations in place that would reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
The states argued that the EPA exceeded its authority by trying to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, and by doing so in a way that would have broad economic impacts.
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