The conservative US Supreme Court on Thursday limited federal means to fight global warming, in a ruling that could further complicate White House regulatory efforts.
The higher court determined that the The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot promulgate general rules to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, which produce almost 20% of the electricity in the United States.
President Joe Biden denounced a “devastating” decision and promised to continue “using the powers that are attributed to him to protect public health and fight the climate crisis.”
The sentence was adopted by the six conservative magistrates of the Court on the last day of a historic session, marked by the end of the right to abortion and the consecration of the bearing of arms.
“Setting a cap on carbon dioxide emissions at a level that would require a national waiver of coal to generate electricity could be a relevant solution to the current crisis. But it is not credible that Congress gave the EPA the authority to pass such a measure,” Justice John Roberts wrote on behalf of the conservative majority.
His three progressive colleagues disassociated themselves from a decision considered “terrifying”. “The Court has stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of the power given to it by Congress to respond to the ‘most pressing issue of our time,’” Judge Elena Kagan wrote.
The decision was immediately welcomed by the Republican Party, hostile to any federal regulation and supporter of fossil fuels. “Today, the Supreme Court is giving power back to the people,” said its Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, criticizing Biden for “waging a war on low-priced energy” despite inflation.
But Democrats called it “catastrophic”: “Our planet is on fire and this extremist Supreme Court is destroying the ability of the federal power to fight back,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren.
shocked, environmental advocacy organizations highlighted the growing gap between the United States and the rest of the world. This ruling may lead to “the United States falling far behind (its) international partners, who are accelerating efforts to meet their climate commitments,” said Nathaniel Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Michael Regan, head of the EPA, declared himself “deeply disappointed” by the decision and promised to use “all the power” of the agency to reduce pollution. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, committed for several years against climate change, considered it a “dangerous” sentence.
This ruling represents a new change of course in the Supreme Court.
In 2007, the highest court had decided by a narrow majority that the EPA was competent to regulate the emissions of gases responsible for global warming, in the same way that a law from the 1960s gives it the power to limit air pollution.
But things changed after former Republican President Donald Trump, a climate change skeptic, appointed three justices to the Supreme Court who cemented the current conservative majority.
The decision could limit the efforts of all federal regulatory agencies, including the occupational safety and health agency (OSHA).
“Most said the agencies could not take meaningful action to meet their goals, no matter the magnitude of the challenges,” Robert Percival, a University of Maryland environmental law professor, told AFP.
The Court “insists that these agencies get ‘clear authorization from Congress,’ but knows that Congress is grossly dysfunctional,” added Richard Lazarus, a professor at Harvard. Given the differences between legislators, waiting for the adoption of a climate law seems wishful thinking.
The file on which this decision is based has its origin in an ambitious “Clean Power Plan”, adopted in 2015 by Barack Obama, to reduce CO2 emissions whose implementation fell to the EPA, but which was blocked before its implementation. .
In 2019, Trump published his own “Affordable Clean Energy Rule”, limiting the scope of the EPA’s action, which took away the possibility of remodeling the electricity production network.
After a federal court invalidated that version, several conservative states and the coal industry asked the Supreme Court to step in and clarify the EPA’s powers. The Biden administration made it known that it had no intention of resurrecting the Obama plan, so it asked the high court to declare the record null and void to avoid a decision with damaging consequences.
*With information from AFP.