MAINE, USA — The U.S. Supreme Court's Thursday ruling of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency resulted in the EPA no longer having the authority to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants on its own.
The decision comes nearly a week after the justices overturned Roe v. Wade.
In West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, West Virginia argued that Section 7411 does not give the EPA the power to regulate emissions.
With a 6-3 vote with a conservative majority, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA can no longer independently regulate greenhouse gas emissions without the approval of Congress.
The Clean Air Act, which was what previously gave the EPA authority to manage carbon emissions causing climate change before Thursday's ruling, can no longer be the only statute allowing the EPA to regulate CO2.
The EPA's mission, according to its website, is to "protect human health and the environment."
By prohibiting the EPA's ability to regulate CO2 emissions, the effects of climate change may become worse. It also conflicts with President Joe Biden's plan aiming to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade, as well as to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea-level rise, with associated impacts (high confidence), but these emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C (medium confidence)."
The EPA issued a statement from EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan on their website in response to Thursday's ruling:
"As a public health agency, EPA’s number one responsibility is to protect people’s health, especially those who are on the front lines of environmental pollution. Make no mistake: we will never waiver from that responsibility.
"While I am deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, we are committed to using the full scope of EPA’s authorities to protect communities and reduce the pollution that is driving climate change. We will move forward to provide certainty and transparency for the energy sector, which will support the industry’s ongoing efforts to grow our clean energy economy.
"At this moment, when the impacts of the climate crisis are becoming ever more disruptive, costing billions of dollars every year from floods, wildfires, droughts, and sea-level rise, and jeopardizing the safety of millions of Americans, the Court’s ruling is disheartening.
"Ambitious climate action presents a singular opportunity to ensure U.S. global competitiveness, create jobs, lower costs for families, and protect people’s health and wellbeing, especially those who’ve long suffered the burden of inaction. EPA will move forward with lawfully setting and implementing environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental harm."
Maine leaders in the fight against climate change met with NEWS CENTER Maine within hours of the court's decision.
Jack Shapiro, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told NEWS CENTER Maine Thursday he was worried Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling against the EPA will slow climate progress when our fight should be in full motion. Though Maine has no coal-fired power plants, he said, the state is connected to the rest of the region.
"The important thing to know about the power sector here in Maine is that we’re part of the whole New England grid, which is still about half powered by natural gas," Shapiro explained. "And that has real impact, both in terms of pollution but also in terms of cost."
Jeff Crawford, director of the bureau of air quality at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said this will hurt some creative EPA incentives like carbon credit trading and companies transitioning to facilities that produce cleaner types of fuel. However, he said, Mainers should know the EPA and Maine still have the power to make a change.
"The good news is it leaves a lot of [the EPA's] authority intact and it doesn’t impact state authority to address climate change through programs such as the regional greenhouse gas initiative, renewable portfolio standards of the power sector, or motor vehicles," Crawford said.
Dr. Melik Peter Khoury is the president of Unity College, America's self-proclaimed environmental school. While the plaintiffs in the case pushed for less regulation in the energy industry, Khoury and his professors are helping to mold the next generation of Maine climate scientists and thinkers. He is worried they won’t be able to do their jobs quickly enough.
"We, as a country, made a commitment to 2030 with the Clean Air Act to reduce our carbon emission, and I think this, really, puts a damper on that," Khoury said.
"Now, we’re saying when the scientists and the regulators have decisions, it has to go to legislation," he continued. "Which slows down a crisis that I’m not sure we, as a country and we as a planet, have time for."
Maine's political leaders have also spoken out, expressing their views on the court's Thursday ruling.
Gov. Janet Mills' office issued a statement revealing her thoughts on the "flawed" Supreme Court decision:
"This flawed and shortsighted decision is an offense to Maine people. It undermines one of our nation’s signature environmental protections – the Clean Air Act, crafted by Maine’s own Ed Muskie and reauthorized under George Mitchell – and it significantly hinders our country’s ability to tackle the climate crisis. Maine and the nation will pay the price for years to come. Maine people and businesses are feeling the impact of climate change right now, every day and, regardless of this decision, my Administration will continue to take aggressive action to fight this crisis and make our state more resilient to its impacts. The future of our state, our families, and our planet depends on it.”
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In addition to Mills, he also wasn't in favor of the ruling, describing that our nation will now be "less safe" in terms of climate change thanks to the decision. His office issued the following statement by King:
"Climate change is a looming threat to humanity, and scientists of all backgrounds overwhelmingly agree we need every tool at our disposal to turn back an impending disaster. But today, the activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court has significantly limited our ability to regulate dangerous carbon emissions.
“This is the latest ideologically-driven opinion from this Court, and the ruling opens the door for it to strike down other vital regulations; our nation and planet are less safe due to their judicial activism and heedlessness to the real-world results of their actions. Unfortunately, the three Justices advanced by the previous administration continue to validate my decisions to oppose their confirmations.
“Now, it’s up to Congress to get to work and clean up their mess. I sit at Edmund Muskie’s desk – the desk where he negotiated, argued and pushed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into existence. In the months ahead, I will be carrying his legacy forward among my colleagues, and reminding them of our sacred responsibility to protect our country and our planet for future generations.”
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey also made a statement in a news release issued by his office, calling the decision a "loss":
"Climate change is one of the most urgent issues of our time. By preventing the EPA from regulating vital aspects of the energy industry through the Clean Air Act, the Supreme Court has removed one of this nation’s biggest tools in our fight against climate change. Despite this loss, my office remains committed to enforcing Maine’s environmental protection laws to their fullest extent and preserving our natural resources for future generations."
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who's the Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, expressed that the ruling "set us back years" in regards to fighting against climate change in a statement issued by her office:
“Instead of empowering the EPA to clean up deadly toxins, this radical Supreme Court has granted another giveaway to corporate polluters at the expense of human health and the preservation of our communities. Make no mistake: this decision will set us back years in the fight against climate change. Now, instead of Congress passing a law and allowing the Administration the agility and scientific expertise to implement that law, every small regulation will require congressional approval. The High Court has adopted a deliberate slow-down of any effort to stop environmental disasters [like] floods, fires, drought, smog, and contaminated water ravage devastating cities and towns across the U.S.
“Today’s decision is one in a series made by a shamelessly partisan Supreme Court which is completely out of step with public opinion. Recent polling found that 74 percent of voters are concerned about air and water pollution in their communities, including 57 percent of Republicans. We cannot allow six unelected extremists [to] overrun our democracy. This decision and Dobbs have left no room for ambiguity— we must abolish the filibuster, expand the court, end partisan gerrymandering, and eliminate the undemocratic electoral college."
In addition to Maine's political leaders, environmental organizations are also speaking out about the Supreme Court ruling.
Maine Conservation Voters issued a statement by Program Manager William Sedlack, JD, MPPM, calling the decision a "devastating" case:
"Coal companies and their allies have captured the Supreme Court and in doing so, have stripped the EPA of its ability to set the strong standards we need to cut carbon pollution and protect public health here in Maine and across the country. West Virginia v. EPA will go down in history as one of the most devastating and dangerous environmental Supreme Court cases of our lifetimes. It is imperative that Mainers continue fighting for climate action at the state and local levels."