Supreme Court EPA decision is a step backwards in the fight against climate change, experts warn

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson makes Supreme Court history


The Supreme Court ruled: on Thursday to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to strictly regulate emissions from power plants, a move that represents a major setback in the fight against the climate crisis.

In a 6-3 opinion along ideological lines, the nation’s highest court in West Virginia v. EPA ruled that the federal agency lacks the authority to regulate industry greenhouse gas emissions. The case stems from former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which allegedly imposed mandates on the amount of emissions power plants could emit. The plan was never officially implemented as it faced legal challenges and was rolled back under the Trump administration.

The court’s ruling states that when it comes to limiting carbon dioxide emissions, “Congress is not likely to give the EPA the authority to adopt such a regulatory system on its own.” It also said a “decision of such magnitude and consequence” must rest with Congress.

In a statement, President Biden called it a “devastating decision” that “threatens to damage our nation’s ability to keep our air clean and fight climate change.”

He added: “I will not give in to using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis.”

Some Republicans, including Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, welcomed the decision, but climate action advocates were quick to condemn it.

Climate and health behavior scientist Sweta Chakraborty, chair of the climate solutions group We Don’t Have Time, told CBS News that the court “took a sledgehammer to one of EPA’s most important tools.”

“We are talking about increased air pollution affecting human health, the environment and in general our future trajectory to global warming from which we urgently need to deviate,” she said, adding later: “The Fossil fuel interests behind this case claiming victory today takes us 50 years back to when Big Oil and other companies were able to pump deadly pollution into our air and water without any restrictions.”

And it’s not just CO2 emissions. The Supreme Court decision also sets a “dangerous precedent” that other EPA regulations could be rejected, she said.

“This really goes against all the evidence and science that we know needs more regulation,” Chakraborty said. “Having statements like this is really saying… we can even unabashedly support the pollution of our communities in the United States. And that’s an extremely dangerous path to go down.”

A “real setback” in tackling climate change

Power plants and chimneys are “one of the greatest sources” of national and global climate pollution, according to Vickie Patton, general counsel to the Environmental Defense Fund. That is what the regulation at issue in this case sought to remedy.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling undermines the EPA’s authority to protect people from climate pollution from chimneys at a time when all the evidence shows we need to act urgently,” she said on Thursday. “This is judicial overstepping.”

While the case was still under review by the Supreme Court, Patton told CBS News, the EPA was “pretty clear” that all regulations would come with a clean slate and all stakeholders were involved in developing pollution standards. “A number” of energy companies also expressed support for the authority of the EPA, as well as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, she said.

According to the EPA, the manufacturing sector is responsible for 24% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from burning fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, trap heat in the atmosphere, rising global temperatures

The United Nations and scientists around the world have been warning for years that failing to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to: “extreme” and “unprecedented” effects around the world, including more catastrophic storm damage, devastating droughtsand health threats and the global economy

“Decisions like today’s make it more difficult to achieve the goals of the… Paris Agreementfor a healthy, livable planet,” Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said in a statement, CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk said. “But we must also remember that an emergency as global in nature as climate change requires a global response, and the actions of a single nation cannot and cannot make or break whether we achieve our climate goals.”

A danger to human health

The UN has warned that the world must stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, compared to pre-industrial levels, to minimize the worst effects of climate change. This is critical, Chakraborty said, because “human health and global warming are inextricably linked.”

“If we really discuss this in terms of human health impacts, the more we raise the planet’s temperature, the more we also increase air pollution, which has negative adverse health effects,” she said, adding: “those most likely to experience it first and foremost, our vulnerable communities.”

A 2021 study found that air pollution from fossil fuels is responsible for causing nearly 1 in 5 deaths worldwide every year. This year, the World Health Organization found that 99% of the world breathes poor quality air, mainly due to fossil fuel emissions.

In the US, the effects of climate change historically influenced low-income communities and colored people the most. Industrial facilities are often located in these areas, which pollute the air and cause health problems for people living nearby.

In addition to experiencing worse air quality, people in these areas are also more likely to fall victim to higher global temperatures, Chakraborty said. And an increase in fossil fuel emissions in the absence of federal regulation will only amplify those conditions.

“These red-lined districts experience temperatures on average a few degrees to five or six degrees higher than their more affluent communities. And that’s dangerous to human health,” she said. “…These communities will continue to suffer. We see an ongoing legacy of environmental racism with the Supreme Court decision.”

For Michele Roberts, co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, this is an issue that comes home. CBS News spoke to her as she was with her family in Wilmington, Delaware, where people of color have long felt the effects of a lack of climate resilience.

Housing segregation and realignment have resulted in communities with a majority of the black and brown population suffering from flooding and other weather and health-related problems. Without adequate measures to mitigate rising temperatures, those problems will only increase.

“For me, as a black woman, post-Freddie Gray and ‘I can’t breath’ and Black Lives Matter and all these things, I hope this is the push this whole country needs,” she said of the Supreme Decision. from the court: ‘My father died a week ago, knowing these things happened. My father was 87 years old and said, “It’s up to you now.” But he said, ‘The good news is that if you all have the brains to work together, you can make it happen.'”

“Self-regulation does not exist”

Without federal oversight, many experts have little confidence that industries will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Chakraborty said the efforts being made to do this are “too little and too far in between.”

“Self-regulation does not exist in the fossil fuel industry,” she said. “…I think it’s very clear that the primary motivation for oil and gas executives is to continue to line their pockets to continue to gain shareholder support so that conservatives can pass legislation in Congress that will continue to allow oil and gas.” to drill.”

The only way to ensure emissions are reduced is to enforce strict regulations, Chakraborty said, noting that renewed policies, including clean energy tax credits and ending oil and gas subsidies, are essential in tackling of the crisis.

“With this ruling coming out of the Supreme Court, we’re actually going back to supporting dirty energy… We’re allowing a free-for-all,” she said. “And it couldn’t be a worse time. We are in a climate emergency.”

Patton said the response will require “all hands on deck,” especially when it comes to the Biden administration’s plans and the president’s pledge to cut spending. climate pollution halved by 2030.

“That’s the commitment we all have a stake in, to save lives and build a stronger clean energy economy for all,” she said.

Roberts said she hopes the court setback will be an “extra push” for change.

“We came together because of the failures and the inconsistencies with the climate and with the climate policy that really didn’t affect everyone,” she said. “…After such decisions have been made, now is the time for us to organize, educate, mobilize and take action. And we are ready for that.”

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