The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Alex Formuzis,

Supreme Court Hobbles EPA's Ability to Regulate Power Plant Emissions, Sets Precedent to Cripple Agency's Future

EWG: 'Court now a tool of far-right interests'


A ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court will hamstring the federal government's ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that is necessary to tackle the existential threat of the climate crisis.

The court's decision in the case, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, doesn't just pose a threat to Biden administration plans for tackling the climate catastrophe. Its potential impact is far broader: It will almost certainly be cited as precedent by other EPA-regulated industries seeking to eviscerate current and future rules set by the agency to protect public health and the environment.

The case centered on ambiguity in a 1990 clean air law, which led to a lack of clarity about the EPA's regulatory latitude. The court ruled against the agency in a 6 to 3 vote.

"Today's ruling crippling the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions further underscores that the Supreme Court's conservative majority is a tool of far-right interests hell-bent on taking the country backward, whether by stripping away people's constitutional rights or dismantling critical environmental protections," said Environmental Working Group president and co-founder Ken Cook.

"Without strict EPA regulation of power plants, we'll never succeed in the fight against the climate crisis. And make no mistake: The agency's industry opponents won't stop here. They won't be satisfied until they've dismantled all our landmark environmental laws, and the unelected conservative justices have now given them a blueprint to do just that.

"This dangerous decision sets precedent and opens the door for chemical and pesticide companies, among others, to use the courts to water down or eliminate any number of important laws in place to protect the public from toxic contaminants," said Cook.

In the case, 19 state Republican attorneys general led by West Virginia and two coal companies urged the court to significantly rein in the EPA's authority to regulate coal-fired power plants' emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In the U.S., utilities are among the most significant source of carbon dioxide emissions, a primary cause of the climate crisis.

The case started as a challenge to the now-defunct Clean Power Plan, issued by then-President Obama, a rule to set nationwide standards to curb smokestack pollution from power plants but revoked by the Trump administration.

The high court's ruling could mean regulations of greenhouse gas emissions will now be left to states and Congress, instead of the authority given to the EPA under the Clean Air Act. The decision also seriously jeopardizes Biden administration plans to unveil a new proposal this summer to reduce power plant emissions.

Cook warned that other industry-friendly states could use the ruling to pursue catastrophic weakening of environmental rules.

"It won't be a surprise if this Supreme Court ruling returns us to the Wild West days of some woefully unregulated states, leading to crises like the fire on the Cuyahoga River and other industrial disasters, on a scale never seen before," said Cook.

"And if that happens, the justices have effectively dismantled the only possible solution we had," he said.

The Environmental Working Group is a community 30 million strong, working to protect our environmental health by changing industry standards.

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