Home News The US Supreme Court just gutted federal climate policy

The US Supreme Court just gutted federal climate policy


What is the ruling?

The decision noted that the EPA’s actions in the 2015 rule, which included caps on emissions from power plants, went beyond the agency’s purview.

“Limiting carbon dioxide emissions to levels that would force a nationwide transition from coal-based electricity generation could be a sensible ‘solution to today’s crisis,'” the decision read. “But it would be unreasonable for Congress to authorize EPA to adopt such a regulatory program on its own.”

It went on to say that only Congress has the power to make “a decision of such magnitude and consequence”.

Deborah Sivas, a professor of environmental law at Stanford University, said the decision could have “broad ramifications.” She added that courts are not only limiting what the EPA can do with regard to future climate policy. This view “appears to be a major blow to institutional respect,” meaning other institutions may also face restrictions in the future.

The ruling is the latest in a series of blockbuster court cases, largely ideologically motivated. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by his conservative colleagues: Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Bray Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

What is this decision about?

The main issue in the case is how much power the EPA should have to regulate carbon emissions, and what it should be allowed to do to do the job. A 2015 EPA rule called the Clean Power Plan raised this question.

The Clean Power Plan targets greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and requires each state to develop a reduction plan and submit it to the federal government.

Several states and private groups challenged the clean energy plan immediately after its release, calling it an overstretch of the agency, and the Supreme Court put it on hold in 2016. The law went back and forth, and the District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled in January 2021 that the clean energy program did fall within the EPA’s purview.

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