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SCOTUS Looks Set to Clip Biden Admin’s Environmental Rules

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


The U.S. Supreme Court may be set to deal the Biden administration a blow regarding climate rules issued through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Specifically, reports said a majority of justices appear poised to clip the EPA’s rulemaking authority regarding the Biden White House push to implement a raft of climate change policies favored by his left-wing political base.

On Monday, justices heard arguments in a case, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, in which the state sued to restrict the EPA’s authority regarding the Clean Air Act, per the BBC.

The law, passed in 1970, allows the agency “to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect public health and public welfare and to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants,” according to an EPA summary.

Last summer, President Joe Biden announced that he wants the U.S. to cut its emissions by at least 50 percent by the end of the current decade, as The New York Times reported. Biden would most likely attempt to issue and enforce broad new rules through the EPA, under provisions of the Clean Air Act, in order to meet his objectives.

However, The Western Journal noted:

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…[A]n appeal from 19 states, led by coal producing West Virginia and joined by other large coal companies, challenged the EPA’s powers, the BBC reported.

This appeal came ahead of any actual plan from the EPA for regulations on power plants, but the Supreme Court took on the appeal despite this.

The arguments in the case particularly focused on how to interpret the Clean Air Act, which would then directly impact the boundaries of the EPA and what regulations it would be able to put on the power industry.

“While some warned this case could be a Waterloo for the administrative state, most of the oral argument focused narrowly on how to interpret the relevant provisions of the Clean Air Act,” Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, noted in a commentary for Reason.

According to Axios, some court-watchers are predicting that, thanks to the court’s nominal 6-3 right-leaning majority, the high court is preparing to curb the EPA’s rulemaking authority in response to the 19-state lawsuit.

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Plus, due to prior SCOTUS rulings favoring generally conservative interpretations of climate and environmental statutes, Harvard Law professor Richard Lazarus told Axios the court might rule to “sharply cut back on EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.”

“They could handcuff the federal government’s ability to affordably reduce greenhouse gases from power plants,” Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University professor of geosciences and international affairs, told The New York Times.

The Western Journal continued:

Adler reported that during the arguments the justices mainly focused their questioning on the interpretation of the language of Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which focuses on the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

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Though the Supreme Court already moved forward with the appeal and heard the oral arguments, the Biden administration’s officials have argued that the case is not ready for any court action since the EPA has not yet even put regulations into place for limiting carbon emissions from power plants, Axios reported.

That said, Chief Justice John Roberts remarked during arguments that the case was still justiciable despite the fact that the agency has yet to issue new rules.

“I gather the position would be it’s — just because there’s no regulation doesn’t mean we’re happy. They would like regulation according to their particular perspective. They’d like good regulation, which they think they had with ACE, and now they don’t have it. Again, why isn’t that a justiciable harm?” Roberts asked during oral arguments.

However, Robert Percival, a law professor at the University of Maryland, told Axios that, in reality, while Roberts mentioned that it is a justiciable case, any ruling from the court at this point would just be an advisory opinion.

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