By shooting down federal-level environmental regulations, the court undermines Washington’s global reliability
A series of decisions by the US Supreme Court have seriously impacted America’s rule of law. Most notably, the court stripped women’s rights to abortion at the federal level. Other rulings on issues such as gun control and secularism have curtailed the country’s forward progress.
These are all very damaging for the US civil society. The Supreme Court’s recent decision on climate change will have a significant impact worldwide. According to the Supreme Court, the US Environmental Protection Agency was not authorized to restrict carbon emissions from existing power plants. This is a major blow in the global fight against climate change and will challenge administrative power in the US in the future, affecting issues such as food safety and workers’ rights.
This decision was based on an opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts. It states that the public should be able to decide the fate of administrative powers. Roberts said that capping carbon emissions to the point of forcing a national transition from coal may be “sensible,” but that “it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”
“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body,” he wrote.
What’s most surprising about the Supreme Court even taking this case to begin with is that there is no current EPA nationwide regulation on the books. An interpretation of the 1963 Clean Air Act was central to the legal fight. At its peak, it had been used to establish statewide regulations under former President Barack Obama. Then, the law was narrowed down to specific plants by former President Donald Trump.
That is to say that the court issued a decision on a hypothetical EPA regulation, one that had been under discussion by President Joe Biden and his team, which is a serious break from the court’s tradition prior to this case.
The Supreme Court tends only to make decisions in existing cases. This leaves Congress with the option to discuss hypothetical situations and political issues. This ruling now strips administrative power from the other branches of government, subverting executive administrative power and the legislature’s mandate issued under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. This ruling has immediate implications for federal agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The US and their citizens should find this terrifying. Many communities will be affected, including those who are of color. The door will open to the degrading of safety regulations for workers and food, as well as personal data protection. It is almost impossible to imagine the damage it could cause for average citizens.
It raises serious questions about how the US can possibly be trusted to partner with the international effort against climate change, when its government has little power to limit emissions. Indeed, the US has already lagged far behind comparable countries in terms of implementing relevant regulations or transitioning to a green economy – but this is a nightmare scenario.
In its diplomacy with nations around the globe, President Joe Biden’s current administration made climate change an integral part of their diplomatic efforts. Because it is one of the most crucial issues in the world today, at least for every country other than the US, this is understandable. After the Supreme Court’s decision, how can the US be considered an important player?
This isn’t the first instance of such an event. After Congress failed to approve the Biden climate agenda, Washington diplomats suffered serious damage. Now, the US government’s last branch has rejected a climate policy that was below the minimum.
This embarrassing situation is extremely concerning for the US, a world leader, and underscores the importance for democratic global leadership. US as a global leader in emissions has a responsibility to cut down on emissions. The court’s decision will be felt around the world – not just in Washington. There have to be consequences for irresponsible or foolish governance. This is why Washington must not dictate how the world acts on climate issues.
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