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SCOTUS Ruling on EPA Emissions Puts State Climate Goals at Risk

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Tuesday, July 5, 2022   

Groups working to curb climate change said a Supreme Court ruling limiting the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control carbon emissions is a major setback in their fight.

The justices, on a 6-3 vote along ideological lines, ruled only Congress can set limits on carbon monoxide and other pollutants, in Arizona and elsewhere. Going forward, the EPA must have clear congressional authorization to formulate most regulations.

Kirti Datla, director of strategic legal advocacy for Earthjustice, said the ruling could affect other regulatory agencies as well.

"If a court thinks that what an agency is trying to do is too new or too big, or addressing too important of a problem, it's going to basically assume that Congress didn't give the agency that authority," Datla explained.

Climate-change activists vow to fight the ruling, but a deadlocked Congress will make it difficult. In recent years, Phoenix and other Arizona cities have passed resolutions calling for emissions cutbacks, but state regulators have not made them mandatory for energy producers.

Datla pointed out in its ruling, the high court invoked a rarely-used rule known as the "major questions doctrine," which blocks the EPA and potentially other agencies from setting regulations deemed "transformational" to the economy unless Congress approves them first.

"There's some reason for concern that all the environmental laws, and kind of the system that's existed for the last 50 years that we've taken for granted keeping us safe -- or at least, safer than we would have been -- are being challenged," Datla emphasized.

Datla noted the ruling negates an Obama-era doctrine which set carbon limits aimed at pushing states to use less coal and more alternative energy sources. She thinks the decision could also undo a recent executive order requiring all federal agencies to take steps to reduce their carbon footprints.

"I think the bottom line here is that the decision is bad, and that it takes a highly effective way of regulating emissions from power plants off the table," Datla asserted. "Those emissions are an incredibly important piece of solving the climate puzzle."

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, coal and other hydrocarbon-based fuels account for almost 80% of U.S. power generation, while renewables make up 12%. The Biden Administration's goal is to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030, and make the nation carbon-neutral by 2050.


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