WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday restricted how the country’s key anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
By 6-3 votes, with conservatives in the majority, the court said the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.
The court’s ruling could complicate the government’s plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate emissions from power plants is expected by the end of the year.
President Joe Biden aims to halve the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and have a zero-emission electricity sector by 2035. Power plants account for about 30% of CO2 emissions.
“Limiting carbon dioxide emissions to levels that will force a nationwide transition from using coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the current crisis’,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his advisory for the Supreme Court. court.
But Roberts wrote that the Clean Air Act does not empower the EPA to do this and that Congress should speak clearly on the matter.
“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or with any agency acting on the clear delegation of that representative body,” he wrote.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Elena Kagan wrote that the decision would strip the EPA of the power Congress gave it to respond to “the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”
Kagan said the stakes in the case are high. She said: “The Court appoints itself — rather than Congress or the expert bureau — the decision-maker on climate policy. I can’t think of anything more terrifying.”
The judges heard arguments in the case the same day a United Nations panel’s report warned that the effects of climate change are about to get much worse, likely leaving the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and poorer for years to come. will become more dangerous.
The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from electricity generation, primarily by moving away from coal-fired power plants.
But that plan never took effect. In a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it by 5-4 votes in 2016, with conservatives in the majority.
With the plan on hold, the legal battle over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA withdrew the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited and it devised a new plan that greatly reduced the federal government’s role in the matter.
New York, 21 other mostly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the country’s largest cities have filed lawsuits over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted new policies.
In addition to the unusual nature of the Supreme Court’s involvement, the reductions targeted by the Obama plan by 2030 have already been achieved through the market-driven shutdown of hundreds of coal-fired power plants.
Power plant operators serving 40 million people called on the court to maintain the companies’ flexibility to reduce emissions while maintaining reliable service. Prominent companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla also supported the administration.
Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the Supreme Court battle against the broad EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Cathy Bussewitz in New York contributed to this report.