US Supreme Court restricts the EPA from limiting toxic gas emissions
The ruling can rule out the EPA's authority to enforce a cap-and-trade system, which would set a maximum for greenhouse gas emissions.
The US Supreme Court restricted Thursday the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to set standards on the emission of greenhouse gases emitted from the nation's power plants, which have a substantial role in climate change.
The court said that only Congress, and not the EPA, has the authority to create a system that can enforce cap-and-trade regulations to limit emissions from existing power plants. The ruling attained a 6-3 vote.
This ruling is a misfortune to Biden's promises to tackle climate change in the US, which comes in conjunction with promises to reach a net-zero carbon emission goal by 2035, cutting half the country's emissions by 2100.
EPA's directive in 2015 was made to reduce production in coal power plants or subsidize alternate forms of energy - however, this was never in effect because the court rejected the idea.
Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the second-largest source of pollution in the US after transportation, according to the EPA, in addition to the country being the world's second-largest producer of greenhouse gases.
The case, named West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency, had is majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, which was joined by the court's five other conservative justices.
“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.’” Roberts 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,” Roberts added.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent, which was joined by the court’s two other liberals. “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 in the dissent.
“The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening,” Kagan wrote. She also said, “The majority claims it is just following precedent, but that is not so. The Court has never even used the term ‘major questions doctrine’ before.”
On Thursday, a White House spokesperson said the EPA ruling was “another devastating decision from the Court that aims to take our country backwards.”
“President Biden will not relent in using the authorities that he has under law to protect public health and tackle the climate change crisis,” the spokesperson said. “Our lawyers will study the ruling carefully and we will find ways to move forward under federal law.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, weighed in on the recent series of freedoms and human rights crackdowns by the Supreme Court: “First on gun safety, then on abortion, and now on the environment — this MAGA, regressive, extremist Supreme Court is intent on setting America back decades, if not centuries,” Schumer said. “The Republican-appointed majority of the MAGA Court is pushing the country back to a time when [robber] barons and corporate elites have complete power and average citizens have no say.”
The ruling can rule out the EPA's authority to enforce a cap-and-trade system, which would set a maximum for greenhouse gas emissions through law enforcement, while also penalizing parties for violations. Parties then buy and sell the rights to exceed that cap, making a market for emissions.
The ruling, however, does not affect the EPA’s ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions more broadly.
Jason Rylander, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said that while the ruling was “bad” and “unnecessary,” the EPA still can limit greenhouse gases at the source under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which was imposed by former US President Obama.