By finding on Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot impose broad restrictions that might revamp entire industries without extra congressional permission, the Supreme Court inflicted a major blow to the Biden administration’s climate change strategy.
The ruling, which was reached by a vote of 6-3, restricts the extent to which the executive branch can unilaterally impose new environmental restrictions.
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With The EPA Decision, The Supreme Court Deals a Serious Blow To Biden’s Climate Plan
“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,’ But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d),” Chief Justice John Roberts said in the Court’s opinion, referencing Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. “A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”
In 2015, the Obama administration issued the Clean Power Plan, which sought to cut carbon emissions at power plants by encouraging a transition away from coal and toward natural gas and, ultimately, wind and solar energy. The proposal was temporarily halted in 2016 by the Supreme Court, and later it was abolished by the Trump administration and replaced by the more moderate Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ACE Rule and the Clean Power Plan as a result of litigation that began after President Biden entered office. Biden’s EPA has said it won’t revive the Clean Power Plan and instead would create and implement its own alternative.
To answer this question, we look to Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which gives the EPA the authority to establish “standards of performance” for existing sources of air pollutants, so long as these standards take into account cost, energy requirements, and non-air health and environmental impacts.
When justifying its decision to scrap the Clean Power Plan, the Trump administration argued that Section 111 only allowed them to determine measures to be implemented at the physical power plants themselves (an “inside-the-fence-line restriction”) and not broadly-applied measures for entire industries.
To a similar extent, West Virginia and other states argued that the EPA lacks authority under Section 111 to impose regulations that would fundamentally alter the structure of the United States’ electrical systems or require industry to eliminate carbon emissions entirely.
Yes, the SCOTUS ruling in WV v EPA is a “blow to Biden’s climate agenda,” as many reporters (including me) have written.
But this kind of framing misses that it’s really a blow to efforts to cut emissions in line w/ climate science.
Physics doesn’t care about politics.
— Maxine Joselow (@maxinejoselow) June 30, 2022
The state of West Virginia is arguing that the federal agency’s action is unsupported by the statute because of the issue’s major economic and political significance, despite the fact that federal agencies generally have broad rule-making power as delegated by Congress through the statutes that create them.
In this case, the Biden EPA said, there was no issue of “major significance” and hence the main questions theory did not apply. Elizabeth Prelogar, the Solicitor General, argued during oral arguments that there is no substantial dispute because no such rule exists.
The Supreme Court’s majority judgment called the case “within our precedents, the case of a big question,” noting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contends that the current legislation “empowers it to substantially reshape the American energy market.” The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA’s “newfound power” came from the “vague language of an ancillary clause” that “had scarcely been applied in the preceding decades.”
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