OOne of the most pressing challenges we face as a nation is coping with the rising costs and existential dangers of climate change. It’s a daunting task that the Supreme Court just made more difficult.
In a ruling on Thursday, the Court imposed new restrictions on what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can do to reduce the carbon pollution causing the climate crisis. As a result, the agency has fewer options to curb emissions from the country’s largest industrial resource: power plants that burn coal and gas.
Now is not the time to corner the nation’s conservationist in the environmental battle of our lives, but that’s what the Court’s conservative majority has done.
However, the decision does a lot more damage than that.
After scrapping a woman’s right to abortion and making it harder to protect our communities from gun violence, the Court’s conservative majority has delivered yet another ruling that permeates the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. in ways that have profound and lasting effects.
This time, inside West Virginia against the EPAThe Court has erected another barrier to limit the agency’s ability to reduce carbon pollution from the country’s power plants.
The Court did not dispute that the EPA can set standards requiring energy companies to install pollution controls on individual coal-fired plants to reduce those emissions. But the Court’s decision prevented the agency from writing rules that directly mandate a shift to cleaner forms of energy, such as wind and solar.
Congress has expressly granted the EPA, in the Clean Air Act, both the authority and the duty to limit the carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases that are causing the climate crisis.
The science is clear: we need to cut these emissions in half by 2030 and stop adding them to the atmosphere altogether by 2050 to avoid a climate catastrophe. It’s part of the EPA’s core mission to make sure we get there.
Read more: What the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ‘Clean Air Act’ means for carbon emissions
The real problem is that power plants that burn coal and gas make up about a third of the country’s carbon footprint. We need to clean up these dirty plants to face the growing climate crisis. Effective EPA standards should be part of the solution. The agency should immediately gather consumer groups, energy company executives, frontline communities and other stakeholders, propose rules by the end of the year and finalize them in early 2023. The climate clock is ticking.
The impact of the Court’s decision is likely to extend well beyond environmental protection, posing potential challenges to the ability of all federal agencies, not just the EPA, to write the rules and standards we’ve already seen more of. more than a century dependent on public safety, health and general welfare.
That’s because the Court relied on a legal theory called “key questions.” Under this doctrine, the Court ruled that without clear and explicit language from Congress, the EPA cannot write a rule that would force a national transition from the use of coal, because that would have too great an economic and political significance for the creation of regulations by authorities.
But, as we and others argued in a letter we filed in support of EPA’s authority, Congress gave the agency clear instructions, in the Clean Air Act, and gave it “EPA tools to address climate-changing air pollution.” , expecting the agency to do just that.
That’s exactly how the process is designed to work.
Under the Constitution, Congress passes federal laws and the executive branch carries them out through the work of federal agencies. These agencies, not Congress, not the Supreme Court, house and manage the expertise—legal, scientific, technical, and others—necessary to write the detailed rules and standards necessary to implement the laws as Congress directs. . If an agency oversteps its boundaries, Congress is the first to know and has full authority to respond.
Read more: How the Biden Administration Responds to the SCOTUS Climate Setback?
The doctrine of the “important questions” is a construct formed by interests that seek to cripple the government’s ability to protect the public from emerging and existing risks. Or, as Judge Elena Kagan put it in her dissenting opinion, “Prevent agencies from doing important work, even if it’s what Congress has ordered.”
Kagan added that “the Court appoints itself – rather than Congress or the expert bureau – as the decision-maker on climate policy. I can’t think of anything more terrifying.”
Thursday’s ruling is up for grabs, not just EPA’s ability to protect the environment, but potentially many other standards and regulations the public relies on to ensure access to safe homes and workplaces; keep dangerous foods and harmful medicines off the counter; ensuring safe financial markets; protect our savings; and much more.
The majority of the Court does not protect the separation of powers: it is an overbearing power that the Constitution expressly confers on the legislature and executive. The result is not more clarity, but more of the kind of confusion that can lead to endless legal challenges and cripple the government’s ability to protect the public from new threats.
Protecting the public from danger and harm is an essential function of good governance in a modern society. This statement goes to the heart of our ability to provide it.
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