‘Not all is lost’ in climate change fight after Supreme Court limits EPA’s regulatory power
The Supreme Court on Thursday issued: a statement limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.
The 6-3 vote along party lines called into question the federal agency’s regulatory authority by suggesting it does not have the power to limit carbon emissions from power plants through a 1970 law called the Clean air convention†
Limiting carbon dioxide emissions to levels that will force a nationwide transition away from using coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to today’s crisis,’ said Chief Justice John Roberts, who said: of the conservative majority. wrote. “But it is unlikely that Congress has empowered the EPA to adopt such a regulatory system itself… A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or with any agency acting under a clear delegation of that representative body.”
The language in the Clean Air Act, which the court examined in the context of the so-called “key questions doctrine,” gives the agency the ability to regulate pollutants that “endanger human health,” but does not explicitly mention carbon dioxide. .
News@Northeastern spoke with Alexandra Meise, an associate professor of law at Northeastern, about the implications of this ruling for federal regulators and the collective ability to respond to the threat of climate change. Her comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
First things first. What does this ruling mean for the future of executive agency regulatory power?
The majority decision here purports to be narrowly focused on whether a particular provision of the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to participate in certain types of policy making to regulate carbon emissions at power plants. It says Congress was not specific enough in authorizing the EPA to engage in this type of activity; therefore, the EPA has overstepped its authority. That is the narrow focus of the advice, but I think it has broad implications for the balance of power within our government and the executive’s ability to regulate under legislation.
When can the executive agencies take certain steps? Congress recognizes that it doesn’t know everything — and it can’t possibly know everything when it deals with certain types of legislation. That’s why we recognized that Congress has the power to delegate to executive agencies that contain experts — and expert knowledge in certain areas — how to actually implement certain policies Congress tries to promote in its legislation.
[Thursday’s] The ruling offers the opportunity to litigate against the regulations of executive authorities on all kinds of matters. From Health and Human Services, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, to the [Food and Drug Administration]we have all these executive bodies that do many things that affect our daily lives: food safety, drug regulation, how Title IX should be interpreted and applied in our schools, etc. There are many questions that are raised by the decision like how courts interpret the power of executive agencies to regulate in the future.
What do you take away from this decision regarding the US’s ability to fight climate change and meet its emissions targets? Is it still possible to devise solutions within more limited regulations?
Climate change is a real threat. Not just for the United States, but also for global geopolitics and economics. Experts have made this clear at both a national and international level. In order for the world to meet our carbon emission reduction targets – which experts say is necessary to keep our global temperature rise below the magical level to prevent the catastrophic impacts of climate change – we must regulate carbon emissions. So what did the court do? [Thursday] says the EPA can’t do certain types of regulation. But it doesn’t say it can’t be done. It’s only going to make it harder.
There will be options – they just won’t be as wide and extensive. They will just have to be more specific to the technical nature of power plants. All is not lost, but it will certainly make it more difficult to implement broad-based climate policy through federal agencies.
How do you think the Biden administration will react to this decision in the near term, given the increasing urgency surrounding climate change?
The regulations at issue here were not currently in effect, and the Biden administration has said it would not revive the Clean Power Plan (an Obama-era EPA rule that gave rise to this case); it said it planned to participate in policies and regulations related to emissions and other climate measures this year, perhaps this summer. Obviously, in the wake of this decision, they need to factor that into what they’re going to propose. But they already had plans in the works anyway.
As has been said by experts and members of this government, we need bold action to reduce our carbon emissions. Power plants are one of the largest contributors to the United States’ emissions. So that is clearly a place where the administration wants to reduce emissions; but the government has also engaged in policy making on transport issues, promoting clean transport and local measures to improve access to transport, as well as initiatives to increase climate resilient infrastructure across the country.
come out of something [Thursday’s ruling], it may be more difficult to enact certain broad types of measures that affect how America gets its energy and the energy markets in general. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take smaller steps toward that goal. There are some inefficiencies in it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reach our goal.
US Supreme Court restricts government powers to contain greenhouse gases
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