Supreme Court to consider limiting EPA’s powers to regulate climate change

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to consider a series of cases challenging the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, which could limit the Biden administration’s ability to curb global warming pollution.

The lawsuits, filed by Republican-controlled states and the West Virginia oil company, are aimed at limiting the federal government’s power to demand a switch from power plants to fossil fuels.

If the Conservative Majority High Court 6-3 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the ruling would not eliminate the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, a legal designation known as a threat assessment. However, I would restrict legal channels through the Clean Air Act to enforce such rules. As a result, the U.S. could find it harder to achieve its goal of halving emissions by the end of this decade.

In an updated certiorari award, the Supreme Court said it intends to ask questions about a legal issue known as the “doctrine of non-delegation of powers” ​​by the Cornell Law School describes as “the principle of administrative law that Congress cannot delegate its legislative powers to other entities.”

A decision that explicitly requires Congress to pass new laws that would allow the EPA to regulate carbon emissions could prove to be an even bigger setback.

The White House has abandoned its main legislative proposal to pay public services to produce carbon-free electricity and penalize those who do not increase their net production each year after Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) said he would torpedo the administrative daily order if Democrats included the measure in the comprehensive spending bill currently under consideration. Democrats are also expected to lose control of Congress in next year’s election.

It is a 1990 legal error when then-President George HW Bush mistakenly signed two slightly different versions of the Clean Air Act into law, creating legal confusion over the border between federal and state power when it came to regulating greenhouse gases.

President Joe Biden’s efforts to regulate emissions from power plants could run into a dilemma if a conservative majority of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Republican states.

LUDOVIC MARIN via Getty Images

When proposing its clean energy plan, the Obama administration relied on a version of the law that was interpreted to give agencies more power. In February 2016, the Supreme Court focused on legal ambiguity regarding the statute, known as section 111 (D), in order to grant a temporary break in the implementation of the regulation. Before the White House was able to resolve the issue, Donald Trump became president and appointed Scott Pruitt – a former Oklahoma Attorney General who led a lawsuit that led to a backlash against the clean energy plan – to run the EPA. The clean energy plan was abandoned soon after.

Shortly before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the U.S. District Court of Appeal for Columbia found the clean energy plan legally sound, and rejected a much weaker regulation proposed by the Trump administration to replace it.

Biden’s administration is still working on a number of regulations aimed at reducing emissions, and none so far relies on the already controversial section 111 (D).

“It’s just this clean air law statute that’s one of the many tools the administration has,” Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, told HuffPost. “I don’t think that’s a problem for most of the measures the administration might want. But there is one special tool that could be in trouble. ”

The court, however, could try to “take this as an opportunity to decide more broadly on the ability of Congress to delegate decisions to agencies” by following the doctrine of non-delegation and could “say that Congress will have to give the EPA power in such an important area and be clearer and more explicit. “

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican who failed to remove Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) in 2018, has helped lead a lawsuit that will soon come before the Supreme Court.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican who failed to remove Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) in 2018, has helped lead a lawsuit that will soon come before the Supreme Court.

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That would probably mean a victory for the plaintiffs. With a 50 to 50 split in the Senate, Democrats must vote in steps to pass a law that gives unique power to lonely senators like Manchin, whose opposition to climate regulations and personal family wealth associated with coal mining have made him a magnet. for grants from the fossil fuel industry in the past year. It is unlikely that he would vote for legislation that would give the EPA new powers to regulate greenhouse gases. Republicans are in favor of regaining at least one congress in the midterm elections next year.

“In practice, this will almost certainly prevent Biden’s administration from moving forward with a new rule to regulate carbon emissions from the energy sector,” said Jeff Holmstead, an EPA air operator from the George W. Bush era who now works in energy. lobbying firm Bracewell, said in an e-mail statement that the decision was “a huge deal – and a big surprise”.

“They will have to wait to see what the Supreme Court will say about how (and whether) they can regulate carbon emissions from the energy sector in accordance with current legislation,” he added.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the more powerful and well-funded environmental plaintiffs, vowed on Friday to fight matters in the Supreme Court.

“Coal companies and their state allies are demanding that the EPA revoke any power under the Clean Air Act to meaningfully reduce the nearly 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon pollution emitted by national power plants each year – a power that it has been upheld by a court three times in the last two decades, ”said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program. “We will strongly defend the EPA’s power to limit the power plants’ large contribution to the climate crisis.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who signed the legal petition, described the court’s decision to hear the case as “the biggest news from the Supreme Court since our victory in February 2016.”

“We must not allow Biden’s EPA to impose illegal climate regulations on our nation,” he wrote in tweet.

Biden’s efforts to curb U.S. emissions have already faced challenges from the federal judiciary, which is now full of judges appointed by Trump. In June, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for West Louisiana, named Trump, issued a judgment eliminate the White House pause in leasing federal land to oil and gas companies. Biden’s interior ministry is expected to sell about 80 million hectares of the Gulf of Mexico to drillers on November 17, just five days after the conclusion of the UN climate summit.


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