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US Supreme Court limits use of Clean Air Act to curb power plant emissions

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In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday restricted how the country’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

By 6-3 votes, with conservatives in the majority, the court said the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

The decision, environmental advocates and dissenting liberal judges said, was a big step in the wrong direction — “a blunt,” said one prominent meteorologist — at a time of mounting environmental damage from climate change amid dire warnings for the future.

The court’s ruling could complicate the government’s plans to combat climate change. The detailed proposal to regulate emissions from power plants is expected by the end of the year. While the decision was specific to the EPA, it echoed conservative majority skepticism about the power of regulatory agencies and sent a message about potential future impacts beyond climate change and air pollution.

The decision put an exclamation mark on a court in which a conservative majority, supported by three appointees to former President Donald Trump, also overturned the nearly 50-year-old nationwide right to abortion, expanded gun rights and made important religious rights pronouncements. all about liberal dissidents.

President Joe Biden aims to halve the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and have a zero-emission electricity sector by 2035. Power plants account for about 30% of CO2 emissions.

“Limiting carbon dioxide emissions to levels that will force a nationwide transition from using coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the current crisis’,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his advisory for the Supreme Court. court.

But Roberts wrote that the Clean Air Act does not empower the EPA to do this and that Congress should speak clearly on the matter.

“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or with any agency acting on the clear delegation of that representative body,” he wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Elena Kagan wrote that the decision would strip 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 – rather than Congress or the expert body – the decision maker on climate policy. I can’t think of many more terrifying.”

Biden called the ruling “another devastating decision that aims to set our country backward.”

And EPA head Michael Regan said his agency will move forward with a rule to impose environmental standards on the energy sector.

‘A gut against critical efforts’

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who led the legal challenge to the EPA authority, said the “EPA can no longer circumvent Congress from exercising broad-based regulatory power that radically alters the nation’s energy network.” would change and force states to fundamentally shift their energy portfolios away from the coal-fired generation.”

But Marshall Shepherd, a professor of meteorology at the University of Georgia, past president of the American Meteorological Society, said of the decision: “It feels like a punch in the back for critical efforts to combat the climate crisis, which has the potential to destroy lives. endangering for decades to perish.”

Richard Revesz, an environmental scientist at the New York University School of Law, called the decision “a significant setback to protecting the environment and public health.”

But he also said in a statement that the EPA still has the authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector.

EPA Administrator Regan said the agency “will move forward with legislating and implementing environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental damage.”

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the ramifications of Thursday’s decision “will spread across the entire federal government, from regulating food and medicine to our nation’s health care system, all of which affect American lives.” will jeopardize.”

The court ruled that Congress must speak specifically when it wants to give an agency the power to enact regulation on an issue of major national concern.

Several conservative judges have criticized what they see as the unchecked power of federal agencies.

Those concerns were evident in the court orders to discard two policies of the Biden administration to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Last summer, the court’s conservative majority 6-3 ended a pause over evictions for unpaid rent. In January, the same six judges blocked a requirement that employees at major employers must be vaccinated or tested regularly and wear masks while working.

Underlying all of these problems is a lack of action by Congress, amid bitter, partisan disagreements over the role of the federal government.

As far as the environment goes, Biden’s signature plan to tackle climate change, a sweeping social and environmental policy bill known as Build Back Better, is all but dead amid united opposition from Congressional Republicans and the Conservatives. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of the coal state of West Virginia.

In a slimmed-down version, the Democrat-backed legislation would provide tax credits and spending to boost renewable energies such as wind and solar and greatly increase the number of electric vehicles.

The judges heard arguments in the case the same day a United Nations panel’s report warned that the effects of climate change are about to get much worse, likely leaving the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and poorer for years to come. will become more dangerous.

The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from electricity generation, primarily by moving away from coal-fired power plants.

But that plan never took effect. In a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it by 5-4 votes in 2016, with conservatives in the majority.

With the plan on hold, the legal battle over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA withdrew the Obama-era plan. The office under Trump argued that its authority to cut carbon emissions was limited, and it devised a new plan that greatly reduced the federal government’s role in the matter.

New York, 21 other mostly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the country’s largest cities have filed lawsuits over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted new policies.

In addition to the unusual nature of the Supreme Court’s involvement, the reductions targeted by the Obama plan by 2030 have already been achieved through the market-driven shutdown of hundreds of coal-fired power plants.

Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the Supreme Court battle against the broad EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions.


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