The US Supreme Court just gutted federal climate policy

What was the verdict?

The decision said the EPA’s actions in the 2015 rule, which included limits on emissions from power plants, exceeded the agency’s authority.

“Limiting carbon dioxide emissions to a level that will force a national transition away from the use of coal for electricity generation may be a reasonable ‘solution to today’s crisis,'” the decision said. “But it is not persuasive that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt such a regulatory scheme on its own.”

Only Congress has the power to make “a decision of such magnitude and consequence,” it continued.

The decision is likely to have “broad implications,” said Deborah Sivas, a professor of environmental law at Stanford University. The court doesn’t just limit what the EPA can do on climate policy going forward, she adds; the opinion “seems to be a major blow to agency compliance,” meaning that other agencies could also face restrictions in the future.

The verdict, which is the latest in a series of court bomb cases, fell largely along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion, joined by his fellow conservatives: Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

What is the decision about?

The main issue in the case was how much power the EPA should have to regulate carbon emissions and what it should be allowed to do that job. That issue was accompanied by a 2015 EPA rule called the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan targeted greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, requiring each state to create a plan to reduce emissions and submit it to the federal government.

Several states and private groups immediately challenged the Clean Power Plan when it was announced, calling it an overreach by the agency, and the Supreme Court put it on hold in 2016. After the plan was struck down during Donald Trump’s presidency and some U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, ruled in January 2021 that the Clean Power Plan does indeed fall under the purview of the EPA.

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