Supreme Court Restricts EPA's Ability to Combat Global Warming
The Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to broadly regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants, a major blow to the Biden administration's efforts to reduce carbon emissions at a time when scientists are sounding alarms about the acceleration of global warming.
Invoking the so-called "major questions" doctrine, the court reduced agency jurisdiction in general, a finding that will affect the federal government's authority to regulate in other areas of climate policy, as well as internet regulation and workplace safety.
The Thursday ruling will send shockwaves throughout the federal government, threatening agency activity without explicit legislative authority.
The vote was 6 to 3. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, while the three liberal justices dissented.
Roberts said that "our precedent counsels scepticism toward the EPA's claim" that the law "empowers it to devise carbon emissions caps based on a generation-shifting approach."
"Under our precedents, this is the case of a major question," Roberts wrote, adding that "there is little reason to think Congress assigned such decisions to the Agency."
Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said the ruling "could be cataclysmic for modern administrative law."
"For a century, the federal government has functioned on the assumption that Congress can broadly delegate regulatory power to executive branch agencies. Today's ruling opens the door to endless challenges to those delegations—on everything from climate change to food safety standards—on the ground that Congress wasn't specific enough in giving the agency the power to regulate such "major" issues," Vladeck said.
Regarding the EPA, Roberts said that regulating carbon dioxide emissions at a level that forces a transition away from coal may be a "reasonable" solution.
"However, it seems implausible that Congress granted EPA the authority to unilaterally establish such a regulatory structure" under the disputed law.
"A decision of such magnitude and importance must be made by Congress or an agency acting under a clear delegation from this representative body," he said.
Neil Gorsuch, writing separately, underscored the court's move to restrict agency power, which he thinks is unaccountable to the public.
"While we all agree that administrative agencies have important roles to play in a modern nation, surely none of us wishes to abandon our Republic's promise that the people and their representatives should have a meaningful say in the laws that govern them," Gorsuch wrote.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan sounded the alarm about global warming and stated that the court's ruling "strips" the EPA of the "authority Congress gave it to respond to "the most urgent environmental challenge of our time'."
"The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decision-maker on climate policy," she wrote.
"I cannot think of many things more frightening," she concluded.
"This is another devastating decision from the Court that aims to take our country backwards," a White House official said in a statement. "While the Court's decision risks damaging our ability to keep our air clean and combat climate change, President Biden will not relent in using the authorities that he has under law to protect public health and tackle the climate change crisis."
Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, described the verdict as "a public health calamity" that will harm the health of Americans.
"A failure to regulate power plant emissions will lead to increases in asthma, lung cancer, and other diseases associated with poor air quality, and in many places, those impacts are likely to fall hardest in already heavily polluted neighbourhoods," Becerra said.