The Supreme Court could be leaning towards cutting back on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to make climate control decisions, which could greatly damage President Joe Biden’s climate plans.
The court heard oral arguments on Monday in the West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency case, in which West Virginia argued for restricting the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, the BBC reported.
The Clean Air Act, which was passed in 1970, is a federal law that allows the EPA “to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect public health and public welfare and to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants,” the EPA summarized.
This means that Biden could give the EPA power under the Clean Air Act to issue broad regulations in order to cut emissions.
But an 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, wrote in a commentary for Reason.
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Some are predicting that since the court has a six to three conservative majority on the bench, the court could rule in favor of a precedent that would cut “executive power to regulate on ‘major questions’ absent explicit congressional blessing,” Axios reported.
Due to other rulings from the court that favored more conservative interpretations, Harvard Law professor Richard Lazarus told Axios in an email that the court might rule to “sharply cut back on EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.”
So while Biden’s climate plan is not specifically being challenged in this case, if the EPA has regulatory powers taken away, the president’s climate goals could be unattainable.
“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.
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.
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.
However, Chief Justice Roberts commented during the arguments that the case is still justiciable.
“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.
But Robert Percival, a law professor at University of Maryland, did tell Axios that while Roberts mentioned that it is a justiciable case, any ruling from the court would merely be an advisory opinion.