The US Supreme Court guts the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions

The US Supreme Court guts the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions
Exhaust rises from the stacks of a coal-fired power station in West Virginia. Picture taken May 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon emissions coming from power plants. The decision is a severe blow to the agency’s ability to grapple with climate change, and it makes it significantly more difficult for the president to make executive decisions that limit carbon emissions.

The majority opinion in the ruling basically said that a previous law passed by Congress doesn’t give the EPA the authority to make such regulations and that, basically, any regulations that the EPA had been handling would have to be more explicitly spelled out by new laws in Congress.

The decision is being praised as a victory by a number of Republican states and coal companies in a multi-year effort to reduce the EPA’s ability to regulate them by curbing carbon emissions.

Key comments:

“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,'" wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the opinion. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d). A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body."

“Whatever else this court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change. And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high," wrote Justice Elena Kagan in the dissenting opinion. “Yet the court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening."