The Supreme Court on Thursday curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ability to regulate climate change, setting limits on how the agency can deal with power plants.
In a 6-3 decision, the majority ruled that Congress did not authorize the EPA to induce a shift to cleaner energy sources using the approach that an Obama-era regulation sought to.
“Congress did not grant EPA…the authority to devise emissions caps based on the generation shifting approach the Agency took in the Clean Power Plan,” the majority wrote, referring to an Obama-era power plant regulation.
The ruling was split along ideological lines, with its conservative justices opting to restrict the EPA’s power while the liberal justices disagreed.
At issue in the case was language in the Clean Air Act that enables EPA to regulate power plants using a “best system of emissions reduction” and what specifically that system can entail.
The majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, determined that the Obama administration’s use of a system that involved moving away from carbon-intensive coal plants and toward natural gas and renewables did not qualify.
Roberts wrote that the plan, which involved regulating the power system as a whole instead of regulating individual plants, was an “unprecedented” view of the EPA’s authority that involved a “fundamental revision of the statute, changing it from [one sort of] scheme of . . . regulation” into an entirely different kind.
In Thursday’s ruling, the court took a regulatory tool off the table for the Biden administration, which is currently working on its own power plant regulations.
While the majority tailored its ruling to the challenge against the EPA’s authority, the decision could have implications for other administrative agencies, with the newly emboldened conservative wing indicating it would be skeptical of any broad interpretations of regulatory authority delegated by Congress.
In remarks celebrating the ruling, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) said his office viewed the case as pertaining to separation of powers, and indicated that it would seek to fight similar cases at different agencies.
“This is about maintaining the separation of powers, not climate change,” he said in a statement. “And we’re not done. My office will continue to fight for the rights of West Virginians when those in Washington try to go too far in asserting broad powers without the people’s support.”
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