Thursday, December 01, 2022

What the Supreme Court’s EPA decision means for the fight against climate change

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – A Supreme Court climate change decision on Thursday hindered President Joe Biden’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and make America a global leader again in the fight to slow global warming. likely to come. ,

In its ruling, the court limited access to the country’s main anti-air pollution law, which is used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The 6-3 decision declared that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate emissions from plants that contribute to global warming.

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Power plants produce about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide produced.

The decision could also have a huge impact on regulatory efforts from other agencies, from education to transportation and food.

The decision was welcomed by the leaders of the coal state of West Virginia. But Biden called it “another disastrous decision aimed at taking our country back.” He said he would continue to exercise his authority whenever possible to protect public health and combat climate change.

A look at how the executive branch’s efforts to slow global warming and other regulatory actions may be affected by the court’s decision.

What did the court say?

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA the authority to control carbon dioxide emissions in a way that would force a nationwide transition from the use of coal to generate electricity. and Congress should speak clearly on this subject.

“The decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself or the agency acting in accordance with the explicit delegation of that representative body,” he wrote.

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The Clean Air Act, which the EPA used to create its rules, was passed in 1970, when little was known about global warming.

“It’s almost as if the court requires Congress to pass a new law every time that there is a new problem, which is ridiculous and dangerous,” said Georgetown University law professor Lisa Hengerling, a former EPA official. he said. She wrote winning arguments in a 2007 case in which the previous High Court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and may in fact be controlled by the EPA.

What does the ruling mean for the fight against climate change?

Within a very short span of time. The ruling makes it harder for the Biden administration to meet its ambitious goal of slowing climate change, even as global warming increases environmental damage and warnings about the future become even more dire. . Biden has pledged to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030 and push the country’s electrical grid to become carbon-free by 2035.

But those goals are clearly in danger after the Supreme Court decision handed over the responsibility to Congress. Biden’s legislative approach has little potential against opposition from Congressional Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

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The court’s ruling underscores to a global audience the difficulties a US president faces in making sustainable progress on fossil fuel cuts by executive authority. Over time the United States is the world’s largest climate polluter. Biden’s struggle to make big systemic changes at home will not affect countries like China, India and Russia as the United States pushes them to end their reliance on coal and cut other big emissions.

“Unfortunately, the climate system doesn’t care about our politics,” said Northern Illinois climate scientist Victor Jancini, adding that the court was “essentially leaving the decision to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases in Congress to those whose may not have the best interests of the planet in mind.”

What does this mean for people?

With the fight against climate change slowing, advocates say, sea level rise and weather extremes such as hot wildfires and more severe droughts are likely to continue.

“In a way, this decision is most worrying for the communities that live on the fence line of power plants, who are exposed on a daily basis to air pollutants released from greenhouse gases, and those who face the most acute exposure.” ,” What was said. Sabrina McCormick, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the ruling makes it even more important that his state and others continue to tackle the climate crisis. “While the court has once again turned back the clock, California refused to back down – we are just getting started,” Newsom said.

California has taken the lead in setting stricter emissions standards for cars and trucks.

How will the ruling affect other federal agencies?

Some legal scholars say the impact of the ruling extends beyond climate change and the EPA to affect a host of key regulatory actions by the executive branch. The court said Congress should speak with specificity when it wants to empower an agency to regulate on an issue of major national importance.

The court is announcing that it will enforce it “comprehensively and aggressively,” Heinzerling said.

She cited earlier court decisions to block the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers and to lift federal restrictions on evictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In both cases, the court ruled that Congress had not given federal agencies specific power to adopt comprehensive measures.

Heinzerling said, “the court does not want an agency to seek authority in the first place” to address a new problem in an existing law.

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Even before the court’s decision, opponents had threatened court action challenging the Department of Education’s proposed rule protecting LGBTQ students under the Title IX Women’s Rights Act and the upcoming regulation of transgender students’ rights in athletics.

Scott Schneider, an attorney who works on Title IX issues, said, “Whenever the Biden rules come out, it’s going to be a whole lot of court challenges for them, and it’s going to try to invalidate those rules.” There will be an argument.”

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The ruling is also being closely watched in the technology sector, where agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are enforcing stronger rules to promote Internet competition and curb monopolistic behavior by big tech companies. Huh.

Neil Chilson, an FTC chief technologist during the Trump administration and now a research fellow at the liberal-leaning Stand Together, said the “strong antitrust enforcement sought by Biden and FTC Chair Lena Khan” was already highly suspicious and I think this is a big issue. Much weakened by the decision.

UCLA law professor Blake Emerson said that as a result of the decision, agencies are likely to be “more cautious and perhaps less effective in their efforts to address major threats to public health and safety.”

What will Congress do?

The court’s decision said it is up to Congress to act with specificity on “key questions” such as climate change. it’s unlikely.

Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who is a leading advocate for tough action on climate, said the court has handcuffed the government’s ability to act.

“The problem is this: they shut down the administrative agencies’ ability to regulate, and then they send questions to Congress where we’re blocked by filibuster and where all the big, black polluting money they put into the political system, dominated,” he told the Associated Press.

However, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment Panel, applauded the court’s decision, which comes in a case brought by her state.

“If Congress had intended to give the EPA such sweeping powers to transform the entire sector of our economy, Congress clearly would have done so,” Capito said. He vowed to continue keeping a close watch on the EPA.

What can the EPA do?

Advocates said the decision does not prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon emissions from coal plants, but limits its authority to do so.

EPA chief Michael Regan said the agency “will proceed with legally establishing and enforcing environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental harm.”

The agency expects to propose a new power plant rule early next year.

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“The EPA has an important role, and it’s important that they act,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director for climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric companies, said American electric companies are committed to providing clean energy “without compromising customer reliability and affordability.”

“Utilities will continue to work with the EPA as officials create “a new rule that is consistent with the court’s decision,” said Emily Fisher, EEI’s general counsel and senior vice president.

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein, Ellen Nickmeyer and Drew Costley in Washington; Jennifer McDermott and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island; Annie Ma in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Kathleen Ronne in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this story.

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