The U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing majority handed down a decision Thursday that will severely limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, undermining the federal government’s ability to combat the climate emergency.
In its 6-3 ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the court’s conservative justices—led by Chief Justice John Roberts—sided with the coal industry and Republican attorneys general who sought to curb the EPA’s rulemaking powers under the Clean Air Act.
Amy Coney Barrett, one of the right-wing justices who voted to limit the EPA’s authority, has family ties to the fossil fuel industry.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan warned in her dissent that “today, the court strips the Environmental Protection Agency of the power Congress gave it to respond to ‘the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.'”
Environmentalists echoed that assessment in response to the majority’s decision, the latest in a series of hugely consequential rulings over the past week. According to EPA data, the power sector represents the United States’ second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“A Supreme Court that sides with the fossil fuel industry over the health and safety of its people is anti-life and beyond broken,” said John Paul Mejia, national spokesperson for the youth-led Sunrise Movement. “We cannot and will not let our Democratic leaders standby while an illegitimate court and the GOP goes on the offense.”
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement that the court’s ruling is “part of a broad-based assault on the ability of regulators to protect our air, water, and climate.”
“Long-sought by corporate polluters, industry-backed think tanks, and politicians who serve monied fossil fuel interests, this decision strikes at the heart of federal experts’ ability to do their jobs,” added Hauter, who stressed that “while this ruling intends to hamstring the federal government’s ability to regulate dangerous emissions, it does not signal the end of climate action.”
“The climate movement must and will continue to pressure agencies and elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels to enact policies that ensure a swift reduction in climate pollution and an end to the fossil fuel era,” Hauter said. “The Supreme Court will not stand in the way of the fight for a livable planet.”
The court’s ruling spells serious issues for President Joe Biden’s vow to put the U.S. on a path to 100% clean electricity by 2035. Meanwhile, the administration is moving ahead with oil and gas leasing on public lands, drawing backlash and legal action from climate groups.
The People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition, made up of more than 1,000 U.S.-based environmental groups, called on Biden to use his still-existing authority to “declare a climate emergency and stop new fossil fuel leases, exports, pipelines, and other infrastructure today.”
“Using authorities under the National Emergencies Act and the Defense Production Act,” the coalition noted, “the president could also halt crude oil exports, stop offshore oil and gas drilling, restrict international fossil fuel investment, and rapidly manufacture and distribute clean and renewable energy systems.”
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