What does the Supreme Court's EPA ruling mean?

The EPA's jurisdiction to establish regulations for GHGs emissions from existing power plants was curtailed by the Supreme Court ruling on 30 June 2022. The agency's claim under the Clean Air Act was dismissed in a landmark 6-3 decision led by Chief Justice, John Roberts. 

According to Roberts, curbing coal for generating power on a national level to limit carbon emissions could be a reasonable solution to the climate change crisis, but Congress granting the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to develop such a regulatory structure on its own is implausible. The West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency decision establishes that the EPA, along with other federal agencies like the Department of InteriorBureau of Land ManagementNOAA, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, would require authorization from Congress to establish any climate change-related initiatives here on. 

Meanwhile, the EPA ruling has stirred the worry of delaying climate change efforts in the United States. Appearing to repudiate any comprehensive regulatory efforts to address the climate crisis concretely, the conservationists see the decision as an unfortunate event. 

The ruling adds to several dangerously outrageous decisions that have rightly tarnished the public's confidence in the Court, expresses Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

The second-largest source of pollution in the United States is from fossil fuel-fired power plants (25%), behind transportation (27%). Being among the world's top producers of greenhouse gasses, the country plays a significant role in international efforts to tackle climate change. And progressives fear that the Thursday ruling bridles the potential of environmental authorities to fight carbon emissions, the most pressing global issue of the century. Also, a major roadblock for the Biden administration's strategy to fully eliminate carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and cut 50% of overall emissions by 2100. Further, according to experts, the decision may have an impact on the federal agencies' authority to establish regulations for public health, consumer protection, banking, and clean air and water. It may also harm the health of the American population because emissions from power plants can aggravate respiratory conditions like asthma and possibly lead to neurological and behavioral issues. Since they cannot defend themselves against natural disasters brought on by climate change, such as floods and extreme heat, the poor and marginalized are those most at risk.

The new ruling has only emphasized the drive for immediate presidential climate actions. 

The Supreme Court's decision has barred EPA from enacting rules that would have forced utilities to stop using fossil fuels in favor of cleaner, sustainable sources. But it upholds the agency's authority to regulate GHGs emissions. And, the EPA intends to enact stricter controls to reduce methane emissions and set higher limitations on other pollutants produced by power plants. 

"It's a bad decision and an unnecessary one, but the EPA can still limit greenhouse gasses at the source under Section 111 and more broadly through other Clean Air Act provisions", comments Jason Rylander, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "In the wake of this ruling, EPA must use its remaining authority to the fullest." 

Despite the latest disheartening EPA ruling, other ethical organizations continue to take action to combat climate change. Since the shift is taking place outside of the provisions of the Clean Air Act, the rest of the world is actively undertaking steps to reduce carbon emissions with or without vigorous EPA regulations.

"While this decision is a setback for proponents of climate change regulation, it is by no means the end of the story," says Ethan Shenkman, partner at Arnold & Porter and former EPA deputy general counsel during the Presidency of Barack Obama.

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