By Arianna Skibell
Politico, Jun. 30, 2022
Today’s Supreme Court decision restricting EPA’s role in slashing carbon pollution from power plants supercharged one of the most consequential questions of our time:
How will the world stop catastrophic climate change?
But the ruling — which President Joe Biden called “devastating” — still left his administration with some climate tools at its disposal, including EPA’s remaining regulatory powers.
“The EPA still has a number of pathways to do its job to protect public health and the environment,” said Dena Adler, a research scholar at New York University School of Law, noting that “Congress wrote the Clean Air Act to broadly protect public health.”
Where Biden lost: The high court ruled that former President Barack Obama’s EPA had overstepped its authority when it took a sweeping approach to regulating greenhouse emissions from the electricity sector.
Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which never took effect, required coal-burning utilities to make way for low-carbon power or use a market-based system of emissions trading.
Today’s decision limits Biden’s options. The justices prohibited the agency from proposing similarly broad changes to the entire power system.
And that dramatically blunts one of the Biden administration’s main tools for slashing heat-trapping emissions, given that Congress has so far failed to pass climate legislation.
What’s still standing: The court didn’t touch EPA’s authority or legal obligation under the landmark 2007 case Massachusetts v. EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, including from power plants.
The stakes are high. Scientists agree that without swift and deep carbon cuts, large swaths of the planet will become uninhabitable. Millions of people will die from extreme heat, natural disasters and disease.
So what now?
Much of the action on climate could fall to the states, where there’s a red-blue political divide. In response to today’s ruling, 24 governors reaffirmed their commitments to wring carbon from the power sector.
Jennifer Danis, a senior attorney at the Niskanen Center, also emphasized that other regulators and agencies, including the nation’s grid operators, are working to clean up the power system.
As for the ruling, “it’s really a question of how much does this harm the pace of that transition that’s already underway?” she said.
In the past 30 years, greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector have decreased by 21 percent, according to EPA data, largely due to a market shift toward low-carbon sources and advances in renewable technology.
Yet the United States remains a huge polluter. The transportation sector is the nation’s single largest source of heat-trapping pollution, and it is only projected to grow.
Read our coverage of today’s decision, as well as the reaction from supporters, critics and the president.
Tomorrow we’ll tackle the implications of the court’s “major question” doctrine. Stay tuned!