Supreme Court Curbs EPA's Authority Over Power Plant Emissions

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THURSDAY, June 30, 2022 (HealthDay News) – In a ruling that will curb efforts to fight climate change, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.

The 6-3 decision comes as scientists are warning about the growing threat posed by global warming.

It could potentially extend to other actions taken by administrative agencies, the New York Times reported.

As with several recent high court rulings, the ruling came with the three liberal justices dissenting. They said the decision strips the EPA of “the power to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the court had substituted its own policy judgment for that of Congress.

"Whatever else this court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change," she wrote. "And let's say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants' carbon dioxide emissions."

The case -- West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 20-1530 -- asked justices to decide whether the Clean Air Act allowed the EPA to issue sweeping regulations across the power sector and whether Congress must speak with particular clarity when it allows agencies to address major political and economic questions.

The Times said it appears the ruling would limit the EPA’s ability to regulate the energy sector beyond controlling emissions at individual power plants. It may also put an end to controls such as the cap-and-trade system, unless Congress acts.

The issue dates to the Trump Administration’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which was struck down by a federal appeals court on the last full day of his presidency. That rule would have relaxed restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the rule was based on a “fundamental misconstruction” of the relevant law, prompted by a “tortured series of misreadings.”

“The E.P.A. has ample discretion in carrying out its mandate,” the decision concluded. “But it may not shirk its responsibility by imagining new limitations that the plain language of the statute does not clearly require.”

At that time, the panel did not reinstate the 2015 Obama-era regulation known as the Clean Power Plan, which would have required utilities to move away from coal toward renewable energy, while instructing states to draft plans to eliminate carbon emissions, the Times said. The Supreme Court blocked that plan in 2016 while lawsuits from the coal industry and conservative states were heard.

That ruling had also cleared the way for the Biden administration to issue stronger restrictions, the Times noted.

Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling could extend beyond environmental policy and limit power at other administrative agencies, the Times added.

The court had previously ruled that two federal agencies could not impose certain rules during the pandemic. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not impose a moratorium on evictions and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could not require large employers to have their workers vaccinated or undergo testing, the Times noted.

As the ruling was announced, the president of the American Medical Association (AMA) reaffirmed the group's support for policies that reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions aimed at carbon neutrality by 2050.

"As physicians and leaders in medicine, we recognize the urgency of supporting environmental sustainability efforts to help halt global climate change and the devastating health harms that it is sure to bring," Dr. Jack Resnick Jr. said in a statement.

"Despite this ruling, we will continue to do our part to protect public health and improve health outcomes for our patients across the nation," he added.

More information

The United Nations has more on climate change.


SOURCE: The New York Times, June 30, 2022; U.S. Supreme Court, June 30, 2022; American Medical Association, news release, June 30, 2022

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