This term, in addition to a number of cases with the potential for seismic implications, has also been adopted by the Supreme Court West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. While the case grabbed fewer headlines, it also threatened Earth-moving implications by calling into question the EPA’s key lever for addressing climate change.
Now we have that decision in hand, and with it the dismal confirmation that another seismic shift has indeed occurred.
Simply by taking West Virginia v. United States. WELL The Supreme Court signaled ominous things to come. That’s because the case, which concerned the nature and scope of the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants, included a rule that It does not exist. And so just by hearing that, the members of the Supreme Court seemed to throw up their hands, signaling a majority actively looking for a chance to curtail the government’s ability to advance vital environmental and public health measures.
Unfortunately, those ominous signs were right on. Because while this decision still recognizes the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, it also sharply curtails the agency’s ability to do so.
Yes, after this decision, there is still room for the EPA to act when it comes to reducing carbon emissions from the energy sector — and Administrator Reagan promised to use the full scope of those powers in a statement in response. We will push hard for EPA to meet that obligation and cover as much as possible with the authority it retains.
While I am deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, we are committed to using the full extent of EPA’s authority to protect communities and reduce the pollution that drives climate change.
My full statement ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/wGx14YQxzt
— Michael Regan, US EPA (@EPAMichaelRegan) June 30, 2022
But it cannot be denied that at the same time, with this decision, the Court made it much more difficult for the agency to set effective standards for the energy sector based on established clean energy solutions; it further tipped the scales in favor of polluters rather than people; took another step down the road paved by fossil fuel interests, for fossil fuel interests — and aggressively signaled more to come.
What the Supreme Court decided West Virginia v. United States. WELL
First and foremost, despite some fossil fuel interests swinging for the fossil fuel fences, the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. United States. WELL did not revoke EPA’s basic authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
While this authority — itself rooted in the previous decision of the Supreme Court, in 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA – ought never when they are concerned, it is a testament to the trajectory of this Court that after this mandate it is registered as a relief to still see that authority recognized.
But that’s where the good news ends.
Because for the power sector, after the question of Fr whether EPA can regulate greenhouse gas emissions is the question how. And here, the Court dealt a devastating blow.
Instead of recognizing Congress’s purposefully oriented construction of section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which deliberately authorized EPA broad flexibility in setting standards to ensure that the agency could continue to act based on the best available science and new solutions over time, this majority instead suddenly has argued that the EPA’s authority to set such standards is effectively narrow and closed.
In practice, this means that instead of the EPA setting standards for power plants based on the full suite of clean energy technologies available to the power sector — not the least of which would include renewables like wind and solar — the Court is now forcing the EPA to take a blinkered approach. , with emission reduction requirements based only on remediation at the plant margins as opposed to the system as a whole.
As the dissident wrote in protest:
“A key reason Congress enacts broad delegations like Section 111 is so the agency can respond, appropriately and proportionately, to new and major problems. Congress knows what it does not and cannot know when it drafts a statute; and therefore Congress gives the expert agency the power to deal with issues — even significant ones — as and when they arise. That’s what Congress did by enacting Section 111. The majority today overturns that legislative choice. In doing so, it deprives the EPA of the strength it needs — and the power it has been granted — to curb greenhouse gas emissions.” — Justice Kagan, dissenting
Finally, it takes a compelling and motivated reading of the Clean Air Act to arrive at the majority’s conclusion, but as has been the case with this case from the beginning, the majority was clearly on a mission to advance a specific and broader agenda, using new means—so-called the “major issues doctrine” — by which he can selectively reduce administrative power as he moves forward. This will threaten rulemaking authority not only at EPA, but the entire federal government; in other words, a staggering array of federal rules is now potentially subject to the subjective veto of the least publicly accountable branch of government.
What this decision means for the climate
The energy sector is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and each one the path to meeting our nation’s climate goals — whether it’s 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 or net-zero by mid-century — relies on a clean energy sector doing a huge part of the work.
This is for two reasons.
First, by cleaning up the energy sector we can address not only the enormous amount of emissions coming from coal and gas-fired power plants, but also emissions coming from a range of other economic sectors, enabling clean electrification of the current use of fossil fuels in transport, buildings and broad sectors of industry.
Second, the solutions to cleaning up the power sector are proven and affordable, meaning that turning to abundant clean electricity has consistently been found, through modeling effort after modeling effort after modeling effort, to represent the best chance of driving that broader economy across the economy. to change.
In short: we need to clean up the energy sector as much as we can, as quickly as possible, to have any chance of preventing the worst climate impacts. And all signs point to the fact that technically, economically, we can.
But will we?
Afterwards West Virginia v. United States. WELLthat fundamental requirement of the broader climate agenda has just become more difficult to achieve.
That’s because, while the clean energy transition is moving fast, it’s still too slow in all segments and in too many places, the fossil fuel industry continues to dig in and fight all attempts at change.
EPA standards should provide a means to overcome such fossil fuel intransigence; now, however, with a majority decision closely tied to the long-held agendas of fossil fuel interests and their fiscally entangled politicians, while the EPA must still move forward with as robust a set of standards as possible, that leverage has been reduced.
As a result, the burden of achieving sufficient climate action will become heavier on everyone else—on cities, on states, on regions, on Congress. And it is Congress in particular that must quickly confront this ruling in order to make the necessary changes, what can by finalizing the budget harmonization package which is in the negotiation phase with the included robust package of investments in climate and clean energy.
After this decision, our climate simply cannot afford another climate failure.
Putting this decision into context
This June, the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that fundamentally reconstructed the basic principles of our society.
The decision of the majority in West Virginia v. United States. WELL represents another.
Now we have a Court that has positioned itself, not Congress, as the policymaking body, and itself, not an agency, as the technical expert.
The implications promise to reverberate far beyond the realm of power plants and well beyond the purview of the EPA.
The consequences will be profound – for the climate, for people, for science, for progress.
Indeed, with West Virginia v. United States. WELLwe have another seismic shift forced by the Court, and another call that things are not right.
Don’t let that call be met with silence in response; help us give back today.
Originally published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation.
By Julie McNamara
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