Explained: US Supreme Court's emissions ruling and how it's a blow against climate change fight

Explained: US Supreme Court's emissions ruling and how it's a blow against climate change fight

Climate activists, including members of Extinction Rebellion, participate in a demonstration in front of the Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse against a recent Supreme Court ruling in New York City. AFP

The United States’ fight against climate change received a major setback on Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have broad authority to curb planet-warming pollution from power plants.

By a majority of 6-3, the US top court declared that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA broad authority to regulate emissions from plants that contribute to global warming.

In a statement, US president Joe Biden called the ruling yet “another devastating decision that aims to take our country backwards.”

“We cannot and will not ignore the danger to public health and existential threat the climate crisis poses.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA risks damaging our nation’s ability to keep our air clean and combat climate change.

We cannot ignore the existential threat the climate crisis poses. Our fight against climate change must carry forward, and it will.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 30, 2022

The United Nations also echoed similar distraught at the US Supreme Court’s rulling, saying it had dealt a blow to the fight against global warming.

“This is a setback in our fight against climate change,” said StephaneDujarric, spokesman for Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“Decisions like the one today in the US or any other major emitting economy make it harder to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, for a healthy, liveable planet, especially as we need to accelerate the phase out of coal and the transition to renewable energies,” he said.

He added however that “the actions of a single nation should not and cannot make or break whether we reach our climate objectives.”

What did the US Supreme Court rule?

The case is pertaining to West Virginia and other coal-mining states against the government.

In its ruling, the court said that while EPA had the power to regulate individual plants, Congress had not given it such expansive powers to set limits covering all electricity generating units.

The majority justices said they recognised that putting caps on carbon dioxide emissions to move away from coal power “may be a sensible solution” to global warming.

But they said the case involved a “major question” of US governance with broad consequences, and that the EPA would have to be specifically delegated such powers by the legislature.

Reactions to the ruling

President Biden expressed his unhappiness with the Supreme Court ruling. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was also dismayed with the decision, calling it a “radical” decision by “pro-pollution justices.”

“By restricting the EPA’s authority, the Republican supermajority on the court has bowed to the dirty energy special interests who seek to poison the air our children breathe and the water they drink with impunity,” she said in a statement.

However, Conservatives applauded the decision as a strike against overregulation.

“The Court has undone illegal regulations issued by the EPA without any clear congressional authorisation and confirmed that only the people’s representatives in Congress — not unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats — may write our nation’s laws,” wrote Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, a state with a significant coal mining industry.

Michelle Bloodworth, president of America’s Power, a coal industry lobby, cheered the ruling.

“We are pleased the court agreed with us that EPA does not have unlimited authority to do anything it wants to do,” she said in a statement.

“Coal-fired power plants provide affordable and reliable electricity,” she added.

Effects

The US Supreme Court’s decision is likely to hinder President Joe Biden’s plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to make America a global leader again in the fight to slow global warming. Power plants account for roughly 30 per cent of carbon dioxide output.

The ruling also puts US in a tight spot on the global stage, as it continues to be one of the world’s biggest climate polluter. Biden’s struggling to make big systemic changes at home won’t impress countries such as China, India and Russia as the United States has pushed them to end their dependency on coal and make other big emissions cuts.

“Unfortunately, the climate system doesn’t care about our politics,” Northern Illinois climate scientist Victor Gensini told Associated Press, adding that the court was “essentially leaving the decision to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases to those in Congress that may not have the best interest of the planet in mind.”

There are some who also believe that the ruling could have far-reaching effects on other agencies’ regulatory efforts, from education to transportation and food.

With inputs from agencies

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White Water Rafting or KayakingMount Fuji Overnight Climb ItinerarySip & Gogh Paint Studio: Unleash Your Inner Van Gogh | LakwatseroBatanes ItineraryHow to Get to Quitinday HillsAbout Callao CaveDiscover LakawonBiking to Taal: A Fun Ride to Batangas’ Heritage TownAntique Blooming: The Rafflesia of San RemigioMalasimbo Lights and Dance FestivalBacolod ItineraryPoon HillAttractions in Mirador Heritage and Eco ParkHulhumale Public BeachRomblon Island: Bonbon Beach, Tiamban Beach & MoreAdventure in Sabah: White Water Rafting in Padas River | LakwatseroHow to Get to Hinakpan Mystical HillsWelcome to Lake SebuAbout CasiguranAbout BuscalanHow to Go to Kalanggaman IslandFaro de Cabo Bojeador (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)Backpacking Maldives: Budget Itinerary, Expenses & TipsHow to Get ThereOffbeat Bohol Itinerary: 3D/2N of AdventuresHow to Get to Tawi-TawiAlona BeachPangilatan Falls: The Forgotten Gem of Tapaz, CapizWorld War I: SMS Cormoran II3D/2N Taiwan Itinerary: Taipei – Yehliu – ShiffenLaos for Backpackers: Getting There on a BudgetBasic RequirementsHow to Get to Antong FallsCathedral CaveHow to Go to Gubat, SorsogonAbout SadangaHow to Get to Bugui Point LighthouseHow to Get to Cabra Island LighthouseCebu Itinerary: Three-Day Adventures in the SouthAbout AndaLuna: A Day in the Show Window of Apayao | LakwatseroMargues Blue LagoonFinding Palaui’s Cape Engaño Lighthouse | LakwatseroHow to Get to Mantayupan Falls of Barili, CebuHow to Get to MaligcongLinapacan Islands: Between Paradise | LakwatseroKLIA to KLCCHow to Get to JomaligBanaug ShoalEspadang Bato – Payaran Falls Day Hike Itinerary10 Remarkable Philippine Destinations for Solo TravelMiagao Church: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in IloiloAbout Carbin ReefAbout Parola IslandCabra WreckageCobra Falls: Ozamiz City’s Best Kept SecretBasco: The Chapel on the Hill of Tukon | LakwatseroBack in Kathmandu’s Lovely Mess | LakwatseroHimalayan Adventure: Kathmandu to Pokhara Overland | LakwatseroItineraryChinatown Vancouver (Stop #23)Situbo Falls: Tampilisan's Awesome SurpriseHow to Get to Inambakan FallsTuasan Falls: Another Camiguin’s Charmer | LakwatseroHow to Get to Lake SebuMarinduque Loop: Biking in the Heart of the Philippines1. 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