Former President Barack Obama sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court after it ruled this week to limit decision-making power about environmental pollution regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“No challenge poses a greater threat to our future than a changing climate. Every day, we’re feeling the impact of climate change, and today’s Supreme Court decision is a major step backward,” Obama said. “The 6-3 decision strikes a blow to the EPA’s authority to regulate power plant emissions—paving the way to dismantle some of the most impactful provisions of the Clean Air Act and limit our ability to reduce carbon pollution. Climate change is no longer just about the future that we’re trying to protect for our children or our grandchildren; it’s about the reality we’re living with now. That’s why it’s more urgent now than ever before that Congress pass [Biden’s] climate and clean energy investments.” See below:
The Supreme Court took up the case — West Virginia v. EPA — to the surprise of observers including Biden’s administration, The Washington Post reports. The Biden administration apparently hadn’t yet proposed its own, comprehensive plan regarding the regulation of pollution from power plants after a Trump-era initiative in that area was struck down. The Supreme Court intervened anyway.
“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.’.. But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote on behalf of the court’s six-member conservative majority, quoting a prior ruling. That’s what a blocked Obama-era framework to which the Trump team essentially responded with its own plan did, but the Biden administration — again — didn’t have a similar plan yet. “This court could not wait — even to see what the new rule says — to constrain EPA’s efforts to address climate change,” Justice Elena Kagan said in a dissent in the new case. The majority’s conclusion affects the administration’s ability to regulate pollution at existing power plants, the Post notes.
The Trump administration, along with outlining a more limited plan to address carbon emissions from power plants, argued federal law restricted the EPA “to regulating emissions at a specific site instead of across the system, a restriction that has come to be known as “inside the fence,”” the Post reports. Trump’s team apparently claimed a disputed piece of federal law called the Clean Air Act left the EPA only able to impose regulations on power plants “that can be put into operation at a building, structure, facility or installation” rather than on a more expansive scale. A panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the Trump-era rules on the last full day of Trump’s presidency — but earlier rules from the Obama era (which never took effect) were not activated to replace the discarded Trump provisions. The EPA “may not shirk its responsibility by imagining new limitations that the plain language of the statute does not clearly require,” that appeals panel concluded last year. The Supreme Court’s contrasting conclusions have sparked concerns about whether the court might undercut federal regulatory power in other areas.