Supreme Court signals it may block Biden’s EPA from curbing power plants’ carbon pollution


As President Biden heads to Glasgow, Scotland, for a global summit on climate change, the Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear an appeal from West Virginia and 18 other coal states that seeks to block environmental regulators from limiting carbon pollution spewing from power plants. The court’s intervention is unusual as the administration has not yet issued such regulations. But the coalition of conservative states said the court should act now to prevent new regulations that could “force dramatic changes in how and where electricity is produced.”

The case of West Virginia vs. EPA will likely become a major battle over the government’s regulatory authority to restrict greenhouse gases.

The court’s conservatives have been critical of the Environmental Protection Agency applying the Clear Air Act in order to combat climate change. In February 2016, a week before Justice Antonin Scalia died, the court issued a 5-4 order that stopped President Obama’s Clean Power Plan from taking effect. This would have required large-scale changes in power plants and forced many to abandon coal. The coal-producing states argued that the EPA was too broad and were unable to get the regulation rescinded by the Trump administration. But the coal producers and the 19 states aligned with West Virginia went back to court seeking a ruling that would limit the EPA’s authority. The appeals court in the United States ruled against them, but they were allowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“This was a huge victory for West Virginia, and our country,” West Virginia Atty. Gen. Patrick Morrisey said Friday. “Given the insurmountable costs of President Biden’s proposals, our team is eager to present West Virginia’s case as to why the Supreme Court should define the reach of EPA’s authority once and for all.”

His appeal argued that only Congress, not the EPA, has the authority to revamp the economy to cope with climate change. He claimed that the court should not grant the EPA “new and wildly extensive authority” to transform major economic sectors.

Biden will be attending the United Nations Climate Summit , on Sunday. Here, countries are expected announce their latest efforts in cutting carbon emissions and shifting away from coal to cleaner sources of electricity by the end the decade. Climate measures are part of the final budget bill for Democrats, which is still in flux.

“It is deeply troubling to see enough votes on the Supreme Court for this transparently political attack against Biden’s climate authority, as the president heads for Glasgow,” stated Kassie Siegel from the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “The timing of this announcement is a hammer blow to the already fractured reputation of America’s highest court, whose radical right wing now seems to care nothing about either legal precedent or our planet’s future.”

Biden announced earlier this year that the U.S. would slash its emissions by at least half by 2030. It is not clear how he would achieve such an ambitious goal, if the court decides against him. The Senate Democrats, which hold a slim majority of the vote, have already reduced many proposals to reduce emissions. Joe Manchin III from West Virginia and Kyrsten Silena of Arizona opposed measures that would accelerate America’s transition to oil, gas, and coal.

The court also heard a bizarre appeal from Arizona and other conservative countries that sought to revive President Trump’s “public charge” rule changes. This long-standing rule forbids immigrants from receiving green cards if they rely on public assistance. The Trump administration proposed to make the rule more stringent by adding food stamps and other benefits to the list. But judges stopped the changes from going into effect and they were removed by the Biden administration. However, lawyers for Arizona appealed in Arizona vs. City and County of San Francisco and said the court should decide whether the conservative states “should be permitted to intervene to defend a rule when the United States ceases to defend.”

Staff writer Anna Phillips contributed to this report.

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