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The Implications of the Court's EPA Ruling



Given that electricity is the second leading cause of US greenhouse gas emissions, it is not surprising that the Supreme Court’s decision to limit the EPA’s authority to regulate power plants led to concern about the future of climate change. While scholars described this ruling as a setback in president Biden’s goal to reduce carbon emissions by 52% by 2030, it is unclear to the public what the actual impacts of this limitation will be.

Before this ruling, the EPA proposed regulating power plants through the Clean Power Plan (CPP) during the Obama administration. The CPP consisted of a series of achievable goals for existing power plants to reduce their carbon footprint, and it would allow the EPA to regulate the power sector as a state-wide system rather than on a plant-by-plant basis. This approach required utilities to shift some of their power production from coal to natural gas or renewables through a cap-and-trade system. According to economists, this is the cheapest and most efficient way to combat climate change. This plan was approved by the Court in 2007 but it was never formally approved by Congress. The Trump administration tried to undo the CPP arguing that it was no longer necessary. They requested an indefinite suspension, and a temporary suspension was granted. Despite these setbacks, the power sector still met its target of cutting emissions by 32% by 2019, ten years early, due to the recommended cap-and-trade system.

On June 30, 2022, SCOTUS ruled on West Virginia vs. The Environmental Protection Agency that the EPA was not authorized to regulate carbon emissions within the power sector on a state level. They cited the Major Questions Doctrine, a belief that Congress must clearly authorize federal agencies to regulate anything concerning “vast economic and political significance” as their reasoning. Due to partisan loyalty, Congress has been too gridlocked to make such decisions. Politicians who are loyal to the fossil fuel industry will refuse to authorize the EPA this power because it will set a status quo that does not favor them. However this decision will not prevent the EPA from regulating the power sector. Instead, they will have to revert to regulating greenhouse gas emissions on a plant-by-plant basis making their work less energy and cost-efficient.

The EPA can still take action to combat climate change but they will have to resort to tactics that are a more direct attack on the coal industry. For example, they could require a coal-fired plant to implement carbon capture storage. They have refrained from doing this because it would harm coal-dependent states more than others and cause the price of electricity to increase in these areas, thus damaging the coal industry.

Ultimately, this decision has made it difficult for the EPA to regulate the power sector in an energy and cost-efficient way, forcing the EPA to take more extreme and less efficient measures in regulating power plant emissions.


Citations


1. Congressional Research Service. (2022). “The Major Questions Doctrine”. Retrieved from,

https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12077

2. Environmental Protection Agency (April, 2022). “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. Retrieved from,

https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#electricity

3. Environmental and Energy Law Program (2022). “GHG New Source Performance Standards for Power Plants”. Harvard University. Retrieved from,

https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/2017/09/ghg-new-source-performance-standards-for-power-plants/

4. Majkut, J. (2022). “The Climate-Change Agenda Can Survive The Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling”. The Washington Post. Retrieved from,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/07/03/epa-decision-supreme-court-optimism/

5. Meyer, R. (June, 2022). “The Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling Is Going To Be Very, Very Expensive”. The Atlantic. Retrieved from,

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2022/06/scotus-epa-ruling-west-virginia/661448/

6. Nuccitelli, D. (2019). “The Trump EPA Strategy to Undo the Clean Power Plan'' . Yale Climate Connections. Retrieved from,

https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/06/the-trump-epa-strategy-to-undo-the-clean-power-plan/

7. Sheldrick, M. (July, 2022). “Biden’s Climate Agenda After Supreme Court Ruling-Now What?”. Forbes. Retrieved from,

https://www.forbes.com/sites/globalcitizen/2022/07/05/whats-left-for-bidens-climate-agenda-after-epa-v-wv/?sh=4d4172575c5f

8. Spike, M. "Fight Today for a Better Tomorrow". Retrieved from,

https://www.pexels.com/photo/c..


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