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Supreme Court Limits EPA’s Authority Regulating Power Plant Emissions

EPA Supreme Court
(Credit: Pixabay)

The US Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA does not have distinct authority to regulate and limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, which could limit the agency’s power to shift energy transitions to renewable sources.

The court ruled 6-3 that Congress did not allow the EPA to move to regulate emissions caps and spur a shift to renewable energy transitions, thus limiting its authority to regulate coal-burning power plants. The ruling essentially means the EPA does not have the ability, without authority from Congress, to transition the country’s energy production toward cleaner sources such as wind or solar power.

The majority ruling addressed an Obama Administration power plant regulation and language in the Clean Air Act that allows the EPA to move power plants toward emissions reductions. The ruling says the plan to transition from coal-powered facilities to renewable sources did not qualify.

The case was heard after West Virginia, one of the nation’s leading coal producers, and 17 other states sued the EPA regarding the regulations.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent that Congress did give the EPA power to regulate power plants, and the ruling strips the agency of its authority to take any action on emissions and clean energy transitions.

“And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high,” she wrote. “Yet the Court today prevents a congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy.”

The move is widely seen as impactful to the Biden Administration’s energy transition efforts. Biden’s stalled Build Back Better Act includes more than $110 billion toward clean energy technology and supply chains, $105 billion for energy resiliency, and $20 billion going toward clean energy procurement. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said in December that energy elements are part of why he did not yet support the legislation.

President Biden is also seeking to triple the solar energy manufacturing production in the country, as well as improving the energy efficiency in buildings, increasing the use of clean fuels, and solidifying electric grid infrastructure. As an example of recent efforts, the Department of Energy recently said it has saved $15.3 billion in energy costs through its Better Buildings Initiative.

According to NBC, the White House said in a statement regarding the Supreme Court decision that “Our lawyers will study the ruling carefully and we will find ways to move forward under federal law.” The EPA told the Hill in April that it was working on its own power plant regulations and would be ready to move forward once the Supreme Court made a ruling.

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