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Supreme Court Rules On Case That Has Major Implications For EPA

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court has announced its decision in a highly-watched case that could limit the Environmental Protection Agency.

In the case of West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency, the Court ruled 6-3 to curb the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion. The Court’s three liberal justices dissented.

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“Republican attorneys general will argue the EPA has no authority to regulate planet-warming emissions from the power sector. Instead, they will say that authority should be given to Congress,” CNN reported. The case also has enormous implications for Biden’s climate agenda. With legislative action on climate looking uncertain at best, a Supreme Court decision siding with coal companies could undercut an important way the administration planned to slash emissions at a moment when scientists are sounding alarms about the accelerating pace of global warming.”

“The power sector is the country’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gas. Power emissions rose last year, mainly driven by coal. Experts say West Virginia v. EPA is a highly unusual case, because there is no current EPA rule on power plant emissions. Plaintiffs are asking the court to block the EPA from implementing future rules,” the outlet added.

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the main plaintiff in the case, was joined by Republican attorneys general from more than a dozen other states.

The plaintiffs challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions coming from power plants.

They also argued that this power should be taken away from the agency and given to Congress.

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“I think this is really about a fundamental question of who decides the major issues of the day,” Morrisey said at a media event. “Should it be unelected bureaucrats, or should it be the people’s representatives in Congress? That’s what this case is all about.”

“These federal agencies don’t have the ability to act on their own without getting a clear statement from Congress,” Morrisey added. “If you have something that’s major, you have to make sure Congress steps in, and Congress gets to make these major decisions of the day.”

Here’s more from JD Supra on the how the case evolved over the years:

During the Obama administration, the EPA relied on Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to issue the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in October 2015, establishing the first national limits on carbon pollution from US power plants. The CPP sought to fight climate change by shifting the generation of electricity from steam-generating units to natural gas–fired units, and from fossil fuel–fired units to renewable energy sources. The EPA predicted that, by 2030, the CPP would lower carbon emissions from power plants by about one-third from 2005 levels.

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Shortly thereafter, 27 states and many other parties challenged the Clean Power Plan in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, arguing that the EPA had exceeded its congressional authority.

The Supreme Court issued a stay, which prevented the policy from going into effect until the lower court had a chance to weigh in. The DC Circuit heard oral arguments in the case, but after the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016, it agreed to suspend its decision as the EPA reconsidered the policy. Ultimately, the DC Circuit dismissed the case.

The ACE Rule and Current Appeal

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After then President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration repealed the CPP, saying it exceeded the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act. The Trump administration then instituted its own rule, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (the ACE Rule), which also aimed to combat carbon emissions, but did so more leniently, allowing states to set their own emissions goals.

The ACE Rule also drew legal challenges—this time from Democratic-leaning states and cities, environmental advocates, renewable energy trade associations, and some power companies. They sued the Trump administration, arguing that it should not have repealed the CPP nor instituted the ACE Rule.

In January 2021, the US District Court for the District of Columbia sided with the plaintiffs, vacating both the repeal of CPP and the ACE Rule itself and remanding the case to the EPA for further administrative proceedings. This has left the EPA, now under President Joseph Biden, to produce its own rule, which it has not yet issued.

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