The Supreme Court has dealt a major blow to the Biden administration’s climate change initiatives, limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) available options for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.
By a six to three vote, the court on Thursday ruled that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA broad authority to shift the nation’s energy production away from coal-burning power plants toward cleaner, renewable sources, NBC News reported.
“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 in the majority opinion.
“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body,” he continued.
In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the court’s decision strips the EPA of the power Congress gave it to respond to “the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”
“The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening,” said Kagan, who was joined in her dissent by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
She added that “the majority says it is simply ‘not plausible’ that Congress enabled EPA to regulate power plants’ emissions through generation shifting. But that is just what Congress did when it broadly authorized EPA in Section 111 to select the ‘best system of emission reduction’ for power plants.”
Meanwhile, in a statement, the White House called the ruling “another devastating decision from the court that aims to take our country backwards.”
“Our lawyers will study the ruling carefully and we will find ways to move forward under federal law,” it continued. “At the same time, Congress must also act to accelerate America’s path to a clean, healthy, secure energy future.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was concerned that the decision could have far-reaching implications.
“The consequences of this decision will ripple across the entire federal government, from the regulation of food and drugs to our nation’s health care system, all of which will put American lives at risk,” he said.
The Biden administration aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants are estimated to account for about 30 percent of all carbon dioxide output.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.