What the Supreme Court ruling on emissions regulation means for Arizona’s climate fight

The 3,600-page report laid out a tumultuous and expensive future of worsening heat and drought, intensifying storms and flooding, more frequent wildfires and pandemics and ongoing crop and supply chain failures./Needpix photo

By Joan Meiners |Arizona Republic

In a decision that has had climate activists holding their breath for months, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. While that Obama-era rule had not yet gone into effect, experts say the decision draws a line in the sand on the ability of federal agencies to address climate change that will hamstring efforts to avoid catastrophic impacts.

The case, West Virginia v. EPA, represents the most significant ruling on climate change in more than a decade. Brought by nearly 20 states including Wyoming and West Virginia, the nation’s two largest coal producers, it questioned whether, in a provision of the Clean Air Act, Congress meant for the EPA to be able “to issue significant rules capable of reshaping the nation’s electricity grids.”

In a 6-3 vote postponed until the end of its 2021-2022 term, the Supreme Court majority determined that it did not. This means that states will not be required to shift some of their coal and gas-fired operations to renewable energy sources, as the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan concluded was the best system to reduce harmful emissions. The Trump administration substituted a more lenient rule that also never went into effect. The Biden administration had not yet submitted its version and had asked the Supreme Court not to intervene.

Environmentalists worry the case will trigger other rulings that may further handcuff agencies from relying on science to make decisions on complex issues like climate change that are far beyond the expertise of Congress.

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