In the midst of society-altering legal decisions, the Supreme Court has now made a ruling that will create a massive hurdle for the United States in the fight against the climate crisis. The West Virginia v. EPA case had a 6-3 majority ruling, which takes away the EPA’s power to require power plants to disclose emission levels or switch to renewables. The decision reverses the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling that found that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant and therefore needed to be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.
According to the EPA, 25% of greenhouse gas emissions around the globe come from generating electricity. Coal processed in power plants makes up about 20% of all power generation. With this new ruling from the Supreme Court, the EPA no longer has any power to help regulate the emissions from these power plants, setting us up for an uncertain future as gas prices soar and a recession looms.
The EPAs administrator, Michael Regan, is disappointed with the decision in light of all of the agency’s recent accomplishments. “Over the past 18 months or so, [the EPA] has done a really good job of focusing on the full suite of climate pollutants,” he shared. “Power plants play a significant role in this larger picture, and that’s why the Supreme Court’s ruling is disappointing because it’s slowing down the momentum of not only curtailing climate change impacts but the globally competitive aspects that this country can seize to create jobs and grow economic opportunities.”
Although the EPA no longer has the ability to regulate power plant emissions, all is not lost. The Supreme Court ruling does nothing to state rights and their ability to control emissions within their own borders. Introducing incentives and carbon markets on a local level that encourages utility companies to work with renewables is one way of curbing emissions. Cary Coglianese, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who focuses on regulation, has mixed feelings on the matter. “If the EPA doesn’t have this authority, then that certainly doesn’t preempt states from going ahead.” However, he also warns that the climate crisis is a global crisis, so independent action from a few states isn’t going to be enough. We need the entire country on board, especially considering that several states might take this as an opportunity to slack on regulations to increase economic value on a short-term basis.
With the political climate becoming more unstable every day amid war in Ukraine and a recession in the U.S., policies are being implemented with a tunnel-vision focus on the economy. The decision to revoke the EPA’s authority under the Clean Power Plan was primarily made to prevent any agency from making decisions that could have any impact on the U.S. economy. Although agency administrator Regan still has big plans for the EPA and isn’t letting this decision get in the way of making some needed changes, we cannot take this ruling lightly. The short-term economy will mean nothing when our planet can no longer sustain us. During times of crisis, we have to speak louder than ever before.
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