EXPLAINER: Why the EPA ruling on climate change matters | business news

By MATTHEW DALY Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s climate change ruling on Thursday is likely to stymie the Biden administration’s plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and make the power grid more carbon free by 2035.

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

Power plants account for about 30% of carbon dioxide production.

The decision could also have a broader effect on other agencies’ regulatory efforts, from education to transportation to food.

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Leaders of the coal state of West Virginia welcomed the ruling. But President Joe Biden called it “another devastating decision that is aimed at setting our country back.” He said that he will continue to use his authority when possible to protect public health and address climate change.

A look at how the court’s ruling could affect efforts to curb global warming and other regulatory actions by the executive branch.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions in a way that would force a national transition away from coal. to generate electricity, and that Congress should speak out on this issue.

“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or with an agency acting under clear delegation from that representative body,” he wrote.

The Clean Air Act, which the EPA used in its rulemaking, was passed in 1970, when global warming was poorly understood.

“It’s almost like the court needs Congress to make a new law every time a new issue comes up, which is ridiculous and dangerous,” said Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University law professor and former EPA official. She authored winning arguments in a 2007 case in which a previous superior court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and, in fact, can be regulated by the EPA.


Short term. The ruling makes it difficult for the Biden administration to meet its ambitious goal of curbing climate change, even as environmental damage attributable to global warming mounts and warnings about the future grow increasingly dire. Biden has pledged to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030 and push the country’s power grid to be carbon-free by 2035.

But those goals are clearly in jeopardy after the Supreme Court decision handed the responsibility to 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 policies,” said Northern Illinois climatologist Victor Gensini, adding that the court “essentially left the decision to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases to members of Congress who may not have the best interest of the planet in mind.


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

“In some ways, this ruling is more concerning for communities living near power plants, who are exposed to air pollutants released with greenhouse gases on a daily basis, and face the most acute exposures,” he said. . Sabrina McCormick, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the ruling makes it even more important for his state and others to continue efforts to combat the climate crisis. “While the court has once again turned back the clock, California refuses to turn back, we are just getting started,” Newsom said.

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


Some legal scholars say the impact of the ruling extends beyond climate change and the EPA to affect a series of important regulatory actions by the executive branch. The court held that Congress must speak with specificity when it wants to give an agency authority to regulate an issue of great national importance.

“The court is clearly announcing that it will apply this important question broadly and aggressively,” Heinzerling said.

He cited previous court rulings to block the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers and lift a federal ban on evictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In both cases, the court ruled that Congress had not given federal agencies specific powers to take wide-ranging actions.

“The court doesn’t want an agency to find authority for the first time” in an existing statute to address a new problem, Heinzerling said.

Even before the court’s ruling, opponents threatened legal action against the Department of Education’s proposed rule that extends protections under Title IX women’s rights law to LGBTQ students, and an upcoming regulation of rights of transgender students in athletics.

“Any time the Biden regulations are released, there are going to be a lot of court challenges to them, and this is absolutely going to be an argument trying to invalidate those regulations,” said Scott Schneider, an attorney who has worked on Title IX issues.

The ruling is also being watched closely in the technology sector, where agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission have been seeking tougher rules aimed at promoting competition on the Internet and reining in monopoly behavior by large corporations. technology companies.

Stronger antitrust enforcement sought by Biden and FTC Chair Lina Khan “was already highly questionable and I think this decision weakens it significantly,” said Neil Chilson, the FTC’s chief technologist during the Trump administration and now. researcher at the libertarian-leaning Stand Together. .

The question now is whether the FTC will continue to seek tougher enforcement, potentially facing costly lawsuits, or back down.

UCLA law professor Blake Emerson said the court made it clear that it “will not accept the policy judgments of agencies if Congress does not explicitly give them that authority in statute.”

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.

The court’s ruling says it is up to Congress to act with specificity on “important issues” such as climate change. On a practical level, that’s unlikely.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who is a leading advocate of strong climate action, said the court has restricted the government’s ability to act.

“The problem is this: They shut down the regulatory capacity of the administrative agencies, and then they send the questions to Congress, where we are stymied by filibuster and where all the big, dark polluting money that they let into the political system dominates. ‘ he told The Associated Press.

However, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate environmental panel, praised the court’s ruling, which comes in a case brought by her state.

“If Congress had intended to give the EPA such broad authority to transform an entire sector of our economy, it would have done so explicitly,” Capito said. She promised to continue strong EPA oversight.

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

EPA Director Michael Regan said the agency will continue to “establish and legally enforce 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.

“The EPA has an important role to play, 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 power companies, said U.S. utilities are committed to providing clean energy “without compromising the reliability and affordability that customers value.”

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

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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