The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 in the case of West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency that the EPA lacks broad authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions related to climate change.
With conservatives in the majority, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year.
President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30% of carbon dioxide output.
The justices heard arguments in the case on the same day that a United Nations panel’s report warned that the effects of climate change are about to get much worse, likely making the world sicker, hungrier, poorer, and more dangerous in the coming years.
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 the generation of electricity, mainly by shifting away from coal-fired plants.
But that plan never took effect. Acting in a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016 by a 5-4 vote, with conservatives in the majority.
With the plan on hold, the legal fight over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited, and it devised a new plan that sharply reduced the federal government’s role in the issue.
New York, 21 other mainly Democrat-led states, the District of Columbia, and some of the nation’s largest cities sued 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 a new policy.
The reductions sought in the Obama plan by 2030 already have been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal plants.
Power plant operators serving 40 million people called on the court to preserve the companies’ flexibility to reduce emissions while maintaining reliable service. Prominent businesses that include Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla also backed the administration.
A total of 19 mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the fight at the Supreme Court against broad EPA authority to regulate carbon output.
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