Supreme Court rules for coal-producing states, limits EPA's power to fight climate change

  • In Politics
  • 2022-06-30 14:03:19Z
  • By LA Times
Smoke billows from smokestacks near Emmett, Kan. (Associated Press)
Smoke billows from smokestacks near Emmett, Kan. (Associated Press)  

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday for the major coal-producing states and sharply limited the Biden administration's authority to restrict the carbon pollution that is causing global warming.

The justices agreed with lawyers for West Virginia and said Congress did not give environmental regulators broad authority to reshape the system for producing electric power by switching from coal to natural gas, wind turbines and solar energy.

The court split 6-3 in the case of West Virginia vs. EPA.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Congress, and not the EPA, has the authority to make decisions on fighting climate change.

"Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible solution to the crisis of the day," he wrote. "But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme. ... A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body."

The court's liberals, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

"Today, the court strips the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the power Congress gave it to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time," Kagan wrote.

The ruling appears to allow for regulations focused narrowly on controlling pollution from smokestacks, but blocks broader rules that would set state-by-state targets for pollution and force a shift to other ways of producing electricity.

The outcome reflects the conservative court's skepticism of federal regulation, particularly when it appears to go beyond what Congress specifically authorized.

Environmentalists have called for regulations to fight climate change, but for more than 20 years Republicans in Congress have steadily opposed new legislation on the issue.

They had one solid precedent on their side. In 2007, the court ruled that greenhouse gases were air pollutants subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act of the 1970s. That decision came on a 5-4 vote, with Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and the late Antonin Scalia in dissent.

Faced with the continuing deadlock in Congress, President Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency sought to combat climate change by regulating power plants, which are the largest source of greenhouse gases except for the transportation industry. The EPA relied on a provision in the Clean Air Act that called for reducing pollution through the "best system of emissions reduction."

Under Obama's plan, states would be required to reduce their pollution in the most effective way, including by switching from coal-fired power plants to using more solar and wind power. But in February 2016, a week before Scalia died, the court issued an order on a 5-4 vote that blocked Obama's plan from taking effect.

The Trump administration then decided Obama's plan exceeded the EPA's authority. Several blue states sued to challenge that conclusion, and they won in the U.S. appeals court in Washington, which ruled the EPA could adopt broad regulations.

Upon taking office, the Biden administration said it would devise a new set of regulations to reduce pollution from power plants. But before it could do so, West Virginia and 18 other Republican-controlled states urged the Supreme Court to clarify the law.

That set the stage for Thursday's ruling limiting the EPA's authority.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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