WASHINGTON — (AP) — The Supreme Court’s decision on climate change on Thursday is likely to hamper the Biden administration’s plans to halve greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade. and make the electricity grid carbon-free by 2035.
In its landmark decision, the court limited the scope of the country’s main anti-air pollution law that is used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Decision 6-3 said the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate plant emissions that contribute to global warming.
Power plants account for about 30% of carbon dioxide production.
The decision could also have a broader effect on the regulatory efforts of other agencies, from education to transportation and food.
Leaders in the West Virginia coal state hailed the decision. But President Joe Biden called it “a devastating new decision that aims to set our country back.” He said he would continue to use his authority when possible to protect public health and fight climate change.
A look at how the court ruling could impact efforts to slow global warming and other regulatory actions by the executive.
WHAT DID THE COURT SAY?
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions in a way that would force a national transition away from use coal to generate electricity, and that Congress needs to speak clearly about this.
“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting under clear delegation from that representative body,” he wrote.
The Clean Air Act, which the EPA used in its regulations, was passed in 1970, when global warming was little known.
“It’s almost as if the court needs Congress to enact a new law every time a new issue arises, which is ridiculous and dangerous,” said Lisa Heinzerling, a law professor at Georgetown University, former head of the EPA. She wrote winning arguments in a 2007 case in which a previous high court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and may in fact be regulated by the EPA.
WHAT DOES THIS JUDGMENT MEAN FOR THE FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE?
Short term. the decision makes it harder for the Biden administration to achieve its ambitious goal of slowing climate change, even as environmental damage from global warming increases and warnings about the future grow increasingly dire. Biden has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2030 and to make the nation’s electric grid carbon-free by 2035.
But those goals are clearly in jeopardy after the Supreme Court’s ruling placed the blame on Congress. Biden’s legislative approach stands little chance in the face of opposition from congressional Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“Unfortunately, the climate system doesn’t care about our politics,” said northern Illinois climatologist Victor Gensini, adding that the court “essentially left the decision to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases to those in Congress who might not have the power”. the best interests of the planet in mind.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PEOPLE?
With the fight against climate change slowing down, advocates say, rising sea levels and extreme weather such as hotter wildfires and more severe droughts are expected to continue.
“In a way, this decision is of most concern to the communities that live along the fence line of power plants, who are exposed daily to air pollutants that are released with greenhouse gases, and they face the most acute exposures,” said Sabrina McCormick, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the decision makes it even more important that his state and others continue their efforts to tackle the climate crisis. “While the court has once again backtracked, California refuses to backtrack — we’re just getting started,” Newsom said.
California has taken the lead in setting strict emission standards for cars and trucks.
HOW WILL THE RULE AFFECT OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES?
Some legal scholars say the decision’s impact extends beyond climate change and the EPA to affect a host of major regulatory actions by the executive branch. The court held that Congress must speak with precision when it wants to give an agency the power to regulate on a matter of major national importance.
“The court is making it clear that it will apply this question to major issues broadly and aggressively,” Heinzerling said.
She cited previous court rulings to block the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for large employers and lift the federal ban on evictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In both cases, the court ruled that Congress failed to give federal agencies specific authority to pass the sweeping measures.
“The court doesn’t want an agency to find authority for the first time” in an existing law to solve a new problem, Heinzerling said.
Even before the court ruling, opponents were threatening to take legal action challenging the Department of Education’s proposed rule extending protections under Title IX of the Women’s Rights Act to LGBTQ students, and an upcoming regulation of the rights of transgender students in athletics.
“Anytime the Biden settlements come out, it will absolutely be a slew of legal challenges, and it will absolutely be an argument trying to invalidate these settlements,” said Scott Schneider, an attorney who has worked on Title IX matters.
The decision is also being closely watched in the tech sector, where agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission have pursued tougher rules meant to promote competition on the internet and curb monopolistic behavior by big companies. Tech.
Tougher antitrust enforcement sought by Biden and FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan “was already highly questionable and I think it’s significantly weakened by this decision,” said Neil Chilson, FTC chief technologist under the Trump administration and now researcher at libertarian-leaning Stand Together. .
The question now is whether the FTC will continue to pursue tougher enforcement — and potentially risk costly lawsuits — or back down.
UCLA law professor Blake Emerson said the court made it clear that it “would not accept policy judgments from agencies if they were not explicitly given that authority in statute” by Congress.
As a result, agencies are likely to become more cautious “and perhaps less effective in their efforts to address major threats to public health and safety,” he said.
WHAT WILL CONGRESS DO?
The court ruling says it is up to Congress to act with precision on “major issues” such as climate change. On a practical level, this is unlikely.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who is a leading advocate for strong climate action, said the court had handcuffed the government’s ability to act.
“The problem is this: They shut down the regulatory capacity of the administrative agencies, and then they sent the questions to Congress where we’re stuck in the filibuster and where all the big black polluter money they left enter the political system reigns.” he told The Associated Press.
However, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate environmental panel, welcomed the court’s decision, which comes in a case brought by her state.
“If Congress had intended to give the EPA such authority to transform an entire sector of our economy, Congress would have done so explicitly,” Capito said. She pledged to continue to monitor the EPA closely.
WHAT CAN THE EPA DO?
The ruling does not prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, advocates said, but limits its power to do so.
EPA Chief Michael Regan said the agency will move forward with “establishing and lawfully implementing environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and communities from environmental damage”.
The agency plans to propose a new power plant rule early next year.
“The EPA has an important role to play, and it’s important for them to act,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric companies, said U.S. electric companies are committed to delivering clean energy “without compromising the reliability and affordability customers value.”
The utilities will continue to work with the EPA as officials “undertake new regulations consistent with the court’s ruling,” said Emily Fisher, EEI’s general counsel and senior vice president.
Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Drew Costley in Washington; Jennifer McDermott and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island; Annie Ma in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California, contributed to this story.
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