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Climate activists participate in a march from Freedom Plaza to Capitol Hill on October 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Climate activists participate in a march from Freedom Plaza to Capitol Hill on October 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Biden Urged to Take Emergency Action After 'Disastrous' Climate Ruling by Supreme Court

"The catastrophic impact of this decision cannot be understated," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, but "we cannot accept defeat."

Kenny Stancil

Progressive lawmakers and activists are demanding an emergency response from the Biden administration and congressional Democrats following Thursday's 6-3 ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The Supreme Court will not stand in the way of the fight for a livable planet."

With their decision, the U.S. Supreme Court's reactionary majority drastically limited the EPA's authority to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, not only undermining the federal government's ability to mitigate the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis but also jeopardizing the regulatory power of other agencies.

"The catastrophic impact of this decision cannot be understated," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said in a statement. By gutting the rulemaking authority that lawmakers delegated to the EPA under the Clean Air Act—authority that the high court affirmed a decade and a half ago in Massachusetts v. EPA—the nation's chief judicial body has "issued yet another blow to our democracy and the rights of future generations."

"Already, the United States is behind schedule when it comes to lowering emissions and deploying renewable energy due to the policies of former President [Donald] Trump and decades of Republican obstructionism in Congress," said Jayapal. "But now that the EPA cannot enforce the Clean Air Act, our already narrow path to meeting President [Joe] Biden's goal of halving carbon emissions by 2030 is even narrower."

As a result of the high court's decision, "polluters will be able to destroy our lands and waters and poison our communities with impunity," Jayapal continued. "Without federal regulation and enforcement, we cannot ensure that environmental justice communities—those living on the frontlines of the climate crisis, disproportionately Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income neighborhoods—will experience further harm."

"This opinion will also have ramifications beyond the EPA, hobbling the regulatory power of agencies across the federal government," Jayapal warned. "From today, the duly elected presidential administration can no longer actually use the tools of the executive to enact the agenda the people voted for."

Nevertheless, she added, "we cannot accept defeat."

While the White House has invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up the domestic manufacturing of green energy technologies, "we need them to double down on climate action," said Jayapal.

Earlier this year, the CPC published a list of executive actions the Biden administration could take to improve the lives of working people and secure a habitable planet. In the wake of Thursday's ruling, Jayapal stressed, the following steps "can, and must, be pursued" by the president: eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, ending financing for fossil fuel infrastructure overseas, and declaring a national emergency to enhance the administration's ability to boost renewable energy.

"Congress must also meet this moment with a renewed sense of urgency," said Jayapal.

"There is broad consensus among Democrats in both chambers for climate action," Jayapal continued, though she didn't mention that conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a coal profiteer who almost single-handedly killed the Build Back Better reconciliation package, remains an obstacle to advancing a rapid clean energy transition.

"We are running out of time," she emphasized. "We must pass legislation clarifying the EPA's authority to regulate emissions, the Stop Corporate Capture Act to improve the regulatory process and ensure it works for the American people, and we must finalize a reconciliation bill with clean energy investments this month."

"We cannot and will not let our Democratic leaders standby while an illegitimate court and the GOP goes on the offense."

Jayapal is far from alone in calling for an immediate and robust response.

The People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition, made up of more than 1,200 U.S.-based environmental groups, called on Biden to use his still-existing authority to "declare a climate emergency and stop new fossil fuel leases, exports, pipelines, and other infrastructure today."

Biden, who is currently facing lawsuits over his resumption of oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, "has the legal authority to follow through on his promise to ban new federal fossil fuel leasing," said the coalition. In addition, Biden can "halt permit approvals for new pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure and hit the brakes on new gas exports," the groups noted.

"Using authorities under the National Emergencies Act and the Defense Production Act," the coalition added, "the president could also halt crude oil exports, stop offshore oil and gas drilling, restrict international fossil fuel investment, and rapidly manufacture and distribute clean and renewable energy systems."

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter concurred that much can still be done to combat the climate emergency despite the high court's "disastrous" decision.

"While this ruling intends to hamstring the federal government's ability to regulate dangerous emissions," said Hauter, "it does not signal the end of climate action. The climate movement must and will continue to pressure agencies and elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels to enact policies that ensure a swift reduction in climate pollution and an end to the fossil fuel era."

"The Supreme Court will not stand in the way of the fight for a livable planet," she added.

The People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition argued that Thursday's decision—which comes just days after the nation's deeply unpopular high court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion care, weakened gun restrictions, undermined the separation of church and state, and eroded Miranda rights—only underscores "the urgent need for President Biden and Congress to take action to reform and expand the Supreme Court, including creating additional seats, setting term limits, and implementing ethics rules."

"Without comprehensive reforms to the Supreme Court," the coalition noted, "a handful of bad actors will continue to pursue a corporate-driven agenda at the expense of the environment, public health, and personal freedoms."

This message was echoed by John Paul Mejia, national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement.

"We cannot and will not let our Democratic leaders standby while an illegitimate court and the GOP goes on the offense," Meija said. "Democrats must expand the Supreme Court. President Biden must use the full extent of his executive powers to justly transition our country to 100% renewable energy."

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