President Biden responds to Supreme Court’s decision to curtail power of the EPA to regulate power plants
Supreme Court has released a 6-3 ruling that severely limits the power of the EPA to ensure regulate power plans to protect air quality. What did Biden say?
According to six justices on the Supreme Court, there is not sufficient evidence to show that carbon dioxide is a threat to air quality and human health. While, the Justices are correct that under the 1990 Air Quality Act, carbon dioxide is not listed as a toxic pollutant and is therefore, “not subject to a [National Ambient Air Quality Standard]” (NAAQS). The justices accept that carbon dioxide contributes to climate change, which threatens air quality, but since it it is not listed as a pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ability to regulate sources that release it is severly limited.
Debate between the Justices over the power of the EPA under the Clean Air Act
The six justices argue that Congress never intended to give the EPA any mandate to prevent climate change, a claim that is widely rejected by historians reviewing the historical record. Today, the scientific understanding of the factors, including the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, on climate change is much better understood than when the EPA was established in 1970. When debating the law in 1970, Republican Senator Caleb Boggs of Delaware said, “Air pollution alters the climate and may produce global changes in temperature.” This provides evidence that some Members of Congress did believe that the EPA would play some role in regulating pollutants contributing to climate change.
The arguments provided by Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority, are similar to those in the Dobbs decision, which led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, in that, they make claims that the decision was reached to avoid legislating from the bench. However, the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, argues that the majority’s ruling is a way to hamstring the EPA by reducing its power to such an extent that it cannot comply with its Congressional mandate.
Climate denalism and the threats we face
In his concurring opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that Congress may be " slow to solve problems” and that while, in those cases, the public may look to the Executive Branch to “take matters into their own hand,” such a move is unconstitutional. The issue that comes to light as a result of Gorsuch and Roberts’ opinion is how checks and balances are supposed to work when ideological radicals have co-opted the government. Half of Congress disagrees with the scientific consensus on climate change. The warnings from organizations like the UN Environmental Program, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the US’ own Environmental Protection Agency could not be starker: we must take action.
Justice Kagan disagreed fiercely with both Gorisch and Roberts by arguing that Congress does not often know all of the information necessary to legislature certain issues, which is why it places broad authority in organizations like the EPA that are staffed by environmental experts. Justice Kagan sees section 111 of the Clean Air Act as one of these broad mandates. Additionally, Roberts argued that carbon dioxide fell outside the EPA’s regulatory authority. Justice Kagan recalled the text of Section 111, which clearly states that the EPA must establish “standards of performance for any existing source for any air pollutant (i) for which air quality criteria have not been issued or which is not included on a list published under section 7408,” otherwise known as the NAAQS.
What did President Biden say about the ruling?
The President, who is currently in Europe, released a statement on the ruling, reasserting his administration’s commitment to combatting climate change.
“We cannot and will not ignore the danger to public health and existential threat the climate crisis poses. The science confirms what we all see with our own eyes – the wildfires, droughts, extreme heat, and intense storms are endangering our lives and livelihoods,” read the statement.
However, similar to the response to the Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the President did not provide many concrete suggestions. Instead, the statement provided a bit of history on the passage of the Clean Air Act, which was enacted on a bipartisan basis. It touted that its legislation cut “air pollution by 78 percent even as our economy quadrupled in size.”