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Supreme Court to examine the ability of EPA to regulate greenhouse gasses and address climate crisis
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Supreme Court to examine the ability of EPA to regulate greenhouse gasses and address climate crisis


The news comes as President Joe Biden prepares his trip to Glasgow, Scotland for a major conference on climate change. There, he will seek to obtain commitments from top world leaders to combat global climate change. Biden’s EPA is enforcing stricter rules to limit the emissions from power plants that generate electricity from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. According to the EPA 25% of US greenhouse gas emissions comes from the electricity sector.

Biden’s climate agenda is focused on strong environmental regulations. The White House hopes that a major climate bill will be passed in Congress in the next weeks. The EPA is expected to soon issue new proposed regulations to limit methane emission from oil and gas producers in the country.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the case is yet another sign that the conservative majority is keen to limit when Congress can delegate its power to federal agencies.

GOP-led states demanded that the court take up the case. A federal appeals court had granted the EPA unbridled power with “no limits” to mandate standards which would be impossible for natural gas and coal power plants to comply.

“For years conservatives have been pressing for the court to revitalize long-dormant restrictions on Congress’s power to delegate regulatory authority (administrative agencies) to Congress,” said Steve Vladeck of CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at University of Texas School of Law.

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Vladeck stated that “one of the questions the Court has agreed upon in these cases is whether in delegating power to the EPA for greenhouse gas emissions regulation, Congress exceeded those limits.” “If the Court affirms, it will not only limit the EPA’s ability to respond to climate change at a time when it’s difficult to imagine Congress filling the gap. It will also have huge implications for the federal government’s regulatory power and impose far more limits.

Clean Air Act authority

This is the latest legal battle in a long-running case over the authority of the EPA to issue regulations under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

The current controversy dates back in 2016 when a 5-4 Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration from trying to regulate coal-fired power plant emissions. In June 2019, Trump sought to reduce emissions limits. A federal appeals court, January 2021 ruled against Trump’s ruling that it relied on a “critically flawed reading” of the Clean Air Act was rejected by the Trump administration.

This January appeals court ruling has been challenged by states and coal companies, prompting a Supreme Court review.

Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s Attorney General, stated that he was grateful for the court’s willingness of him to hear the case. He also said that a “significant” portion of the court shared his concern that the DC Circuit had granted EPA too many authority.

Morrisey wrote in court briefs that “How we respond climate change is a pressing matter for our nation, but some of the paths forward have serious and disproportionate cost for States,”

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The Biden administration had asked the justices to not intervene at this point but to wait for the Biden Environmental Protection Agency to finalize its clean air regulations.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency“Will continue to promote new standards to ensure that all Americans can be protected from power plant pollution that harms the economy and public health.”

Regan wrote in a tweet: “Power plant pollution hurts families. It threatens workers. The Courts have repeatedly upheld EPA’s authority to regulate dangerous power plants carbon pollution.

David Doniger, Natural Resources Defense Council, stated that the group would “vigorously defend EPA’s authority to limit power plants’ enormous contribution to the climate crises.”

“Coal companies, along with their state allies, are asking the Court not to grant EPA any authority under Clean Air Act to reduce the nearly 1.5 billion tons carbon pollution emitted from the nation’s power plants each and every year — an authority the Court upheld three times over the past 20-years,” he said.

This story has been updated to include additional details.


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