(Washington, D.C.) — In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
A vote of 6-3 was cast, with conservatives making up the majority. The court stated that the Clean Air Act did not grant the Environmental Protection Agency the broad authority necessary to regulate the greenhouse gases emitted by power plants.
The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. The court’s plan to regulate the emissions from power plants is due by the end 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. Around 30% of all carbon dioxide is produced by power plants.
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.
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The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. This plan required that states reduce their emissions in the production of electricity. It was primarily aimed at shifting away from coal-fired power plants.
However, that plan was never implemented. The Supreme Court, acting in a suit filed by West Virginia, others, blocked the plan in 2016. It did so by a 5-4 vote with conservatives.
While the Obama-era plan was being put on hold, legal action over it went on. The Obama-era plan was canceled by the EPA after Donald Trump became president. 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 Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the nation’s largest cities sued over the Trump plan. Both the repeal and new plans were rejected by the Washington federal appeals court. The decision was null and void while the Trump administration created a new policy.
Adding to the unusual nature of the high court’s involvement, 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. This administration also received support from prominent businessmen such as Apple, Google and Microsoft.
The Supreme Court fought against the broad EPA authority that regulates carbon output in nineteen states, most of them Republican-led.
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