A day into Brett Kavanaugh's new role as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, the court ruled in favor of a decision the judge had made while serving on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—allowing a challenge to a greenhouse gas regulation to stand one day after the United Nations warned that "unprecedented" political will is needed to fight the climate crisis.
The Court declined to hear a lawsuit against the appeals court over its ruling last year that struck down an Obama-era regulation on hydrofluorocarbons (HFC).
The greenhouse gases are commonly found in household appliances including air conditioners. While they do not last long in the atmosphere once they're released, HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and were used widely starting in the mid-1990s as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances.
"Coming only a day after the world’s leading climate scientists called for urgent action to curb dangerous carbon pollution, the court’s decision lets irresponsible companies to continue harming our planet—even though safer alternatives exist," David Doniger, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement.
Kavanaugh was not involved in the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, but critics expressed concern that the ruling is a sign of how the court will likely decide environmental cases in the future.
The first entry in Kavanaugh's environmental record as a SCOTUS member is in and it's not very promising. https://t.co/nSLGJIiuFs
— Environmental Integrity Project (@EnviroIntegrity) October 9, 2018
Last year, the Trump administration argued that the HFC rule was the result of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepping its bounds under former President Barack Obama.
The 2015 regulation had eliminated the use of HFCs, identified by the NRDC as "powerful heat-trapping gases that significantly contribute to climate change," and mandated that companies find alternative substances that do not contribute to the climate crisis to use in refrigerators and air conditioners.
Kavanaugh agreed with Trump's EPA, writing in his opinion in the 2-1 ruling that the regulation appeared to "pull the rug out" from under companies that invested in HFCs.
"Under the Constitution, congressional inaction does not license an agency to take matters into its own hands, even to solve a pressing policy issue such as climate change," Kavanaugh wrote.
On Monday, the Guardian reported that a treaty under the Montreal Protocol, the Kigali Amendment, is set to drastically reduce global emissions of HFCs—one of several "short-lived climate pollutants" (SLCPs)—when it goes into effect on January 1. The treaty could reduce the warming of the globe by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius or 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Short-lived climate pollutants are the 'low hanging fruit' in the fight against climate change," Helena Molin Valdés, head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, said in a statement. "We have the tools and proven technologies and policies to help countries achieve immediate reductions, and by doing so we can solve air pollution and climate simultaneously."