EPA's Power To Regulate CA's Carbon Emissions Curbed By Supreme Court

Here's what the Golden State is doing to target greenhouse gases and other factors that influence climate change.

June 30, 2022

CALIFORNIA — The Supreme Court on Thursday limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, representing a significant blow to federal officials’ efforts to fight climate change.

The court ruled in favor of a handful of Republican-led states and coal companies and said that the EPA lacked the authority under the Clean Air Act to shift the nation’s energy production away from coal-powered plants to cleaner alternatives such as wind and solar power. The conservative majority on the court voted 6-3.

While the ruling will limit the EPA's power, the Golden State has its own authority under the Clean Air Act. California is one of 33 states that have released a climate action plan, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

"...we will continue to lead toward a net-zero carbon future as required under California law. However, air pollution doesn’t stop at state borders, it requires a national, whole-of-government approach," U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote in a Thursday release.

The Clear Air California coalition weighed in on the ruling Thursday, urging voters to pass climate protecting measures such as the Clean Cars and Clean Air Act on the November ballot. The measures aim to target the state's top two sources of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution: wildfires and transportation.

"Thankfully, individual states can step into the breach. California can and must act to curb one of the most immediate and dire threats of our time. This November we have an historic opportunity to dramatically reduce air pollution, a huge contributing factor to climate change, by voting in favor of the Clean Cars and Clean Air Act. While this ruling is upsetting, it’s not the end of our fight for a healthy environment," the coalition wrote in a statement.

Democratic California lawmakers also decried yet another bombshell decision this month from the high court.

"Today's Supreme Court decision is another ruling that defies the will of the people and endangers future generations of Americans," Congressman Eric Swalwell tweeted. "The Court's conservative majority is putting polluters over people by narrowing the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Congress must take climate action now!"

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) also weighed in.

"Today a radical and corrupt Supreme Court handed another major deliverable to the rightwing dark money machine that has worked for decades to bring us to this moment. After stripping women of their fundamental right to reproductive choice, inventing a new fundamental right to carry guns in public just for the heck of it, and dismantling the wall separating church and state, the Kangaroo Court is now shielding the fossil fuel industry from direct federal regulation of planet-killing carbon pollution, effectively hijacking and rewriting the Clean Air Act for corporate polluters,”said Huffman.

With the ruling, any future regulations from the agency to limit carbon emissions must be limited to specific power plants and not a general push for utilities to transition to renewable energy sources.

California Atty. General Rob Bonta condemned the ruling, calling it "misguided and gravely disappointing."

"It will have dangerous consequences. We are running out of time in the fight against climate change, and we need all levels of government working together to take action before it’s too late," Bonta wrote in a statement. "In California, we have strong programs in place to address climate change, and we will not go backwards."

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed that a shift toward renewable energy “may be a sensible solution” to the climate crisis, but that such a mandate was too large to fall under the scope of the EPA and belonged to Congress or an agency acting within “a clear delegation” from the legislative branch.

Justice Elena Kagan accused the court of appointing itself the decision-maker on climate policy and stripping the EPA of the power granted to it by Congress in a dissenting opinion.

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden announced a goal to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 as well as transition to a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by 2050.

Energy production accounted for 25 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, and around 60 percent of the nation’s electricity was produced by burning fossil fuels, according to the EPA.

The legal battle dates back to the Clean Power Plan put forward by then-President Barack Obama’s administration, which would have required states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, mainly through a transition away from coal-powered plants.

That initiative was blocked by the Supreme Court in 2016 by a 5-4 conservative majority. Under then-President Donald Trump, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan and put in place one in which the federal agency’s role was reduced.

A federal appeals court struck down the Trump-era plan last year, leaving no federal restrictions on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The new Supreme Court ruling prevents regulations similar to the Clean Power Plan from taking effect.

Despite a lack of carbon pollution regulations at the federal level, 24 states and the District of Columbia have adopted reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

California has a target of reaching net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2045, a goal set in 2018. California also set a target in 2005 to reduce GHG emissions 80 percent bellow 1990 levels by 2050, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Other state-level measures being enacted include climate action plans, which are set or being developed in 33 states, and the adoption of renewable portfolio standards and clean energy standards, which are meant to help states transition to renewable energy sources.

A handful of states have enacted carbon pricing policies, mainly through cap-and-trade programs, which sets a cap on emissions for companies and organizations but allows them to purchase more capacity from companies that didn’t use their allotment.

Reporting and writing from The Associated Press was used in this story.

By:  Kat Schuster
Source: Patch