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    Supreme Court decision brings back coal age for power plants

    July 1, 2022 - New Jersey Spotlight


      Credit: (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
      File photo

      In a decision that could thwart the federal government’s efforts to fight climate change, the nation’s highest court curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s bid to clamp down on pollution from power plants.

      Thursday’s ruling, in a 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, found the agency overstepped its authority when it tried to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants by pushing the facilities to shift to other cleaner ways of producing electricity, such as natural-gas or solar and wind.

      The so-called Clean Power Plan was adopted in 2015 during Obama administration, but never implemented after it was blocked by the courts. The Supreme Court decided to review the plan nevertheless, and ruled Congress never gave the agency specific authority to regulate what it described as “generation shifting.’’

      The court also took issue in the case, known as West Virginia vs. EPA , with a proposed cap on carbon emissions from the power plants, another provision of the Clean Power Plan. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme,’’ Roberts wrote.

      In a dissent, Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “The court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decision maker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.’’

      Power plants used to be the most significant single source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. That’s no longer the case, although they remain substantial producers of carbon dioxide. In the decision, the court noted the Clean Power Plan would have shifted the nation’s mix of coal use from 38% nationwide to 27% by 2030.

      Even though the plan never went into effect, such a shift occurred already because changing markets made coal no longer competitive with natural gas. That’s also true today for wind and solar energy. Despite that shift, the United States is still the second largest emitter of carbon pollution behind China.

      The ruling comes at a time when many scientists fear the window for averting the worst impacts of climate change is rapidly narrowing. This year has already seen unusually early and potent heat waves bake large portions of the country, Europe and Asia. Wildfires also have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres in New Mexico, and other parts of the West.

      Top court draws fire

      The ruling drew harsh criticism from many, some of whom already are angry at the court over the decision earlier this week abolishing women’s right to abortion.

      Even though this ruling focuses on a narrow decision involving the EPA, the case has the potential to touch on what conservatives call the “administrative state.” That could open the way for the court to rule on other EPA policies and regulations.

      Gov. Phil Murphy raised similar concerns. “Throughout the past week, the Supreme Court’s far-right majority made it abundantly clear: governments can control women’s bodies, but not the guns that endanger our communities or the polluters who imperil the future of our planet,’’ he said.

      Murphy said the ruling threatens to exacerbate climate change but vowed the state will continue to press forward with its goal of creating a 100% clean energy economy by 2050.

      “We cannot rely on the Supreme Court to make the right calls,’’ said Rob Verchick, board president of the Center for Progressive Reform. “In the real world, this means that at least for the time being, the EPA, will find it difficult to regulate climate pollution and protect the American people from the worst impacts of human-driven climate change.’’

      Doug O’Malley, the state director of Environment New Jersey, joined NJ Spotlight News to talk about the impact of this ruling (watch the video).

      Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey Sierra Club Chapter director, described the ruling as gutting the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from power plants. The group announced a rally Friday at 1 p.m. outside the U.S. District Court in Trenton to demand that Congress finally pass climate, jobs and clean-energy investments,

      “Every second we delay, the costs of inaction for all Americans only grows,’’ she said.

      Not all naysayers

      Some praised the decision. “This ruling is a huge victory for anyone who supports American independence,’’ said Daniel Turner, executive director and founder of Power the Future, a nonprofit representing energy workers. “If the environmental left really wants to shut down these critical energy products, they need to do it via the legislative process, which currently can’t get past their own party, let alone the American public.’’

      Others said the decision leaves EPA with some discretion. “This is a significant setback for environmental protection and public health safeguards,’’ acknowledged Richard Revesz, a professor of law at the New York University School of Law.

      “But the EPA retains the authority to regulate greenhouse gas-emisssions, including from power plants. No party in this case challenged that authority, which is granted by the Clean Air Act. This case challenged only the form of regulation,’’ he said.

      The views expressed in content distributed by Newstex and its re-distributors (collectively, "Newstex Authoritative Content") are solely those of the respective author(s) and not necessarily the views of Newstex et al. It is provided as general information only on an "AS IS" basis, without warranties and conferring no rights, which should not be relied upon as professional advice. Newstex et al. make no claims, promises or guarantees regarding its accuracy or completeness, nor as to the quality of the opinions and commentary contained therein.


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