Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions
By a 6-3 vote, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Its detailed proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year. Though the decision was specific to the EPA, it was in line with the conservative majority’s skepticism of the power of regulatory agencies and it sent a message on possible future effects beyond climate change and air pollution.
President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30 percent of carbon dioxide output.
“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,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the court.
But Roberts wrote that the Clean Air Act doesn’t give EPA the authority to do so and that Congress must speak clearly on this subject.
“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body,” he wrote.
In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the decision strips the EPA of the power Congress gave it to respond to “the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”
Kagan said the stakes in the case are high. She said, “The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”
Biden, in a statement, called the ruling “another devastating decision that aims to take our country backwards.” He said he would “not relent in using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis.”
And EPA head Michael Regan said his agency will move forward with a rule to impose environmental standards on the energy sector.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who led the legal challenge to EPA authority, said the “EPA can no longer sidestep Congress to exercise broad regulatory power that would radically transform the nation’s energy grid and force states to fundamentally shift their energy portfolios away from coal-fired generation.”