by Josh Hypes
- The Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to the Biden
administration’s wide-ranging climate goals Thursday, limiting the
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse
gas emissions from power plants.
- “Congress did
not grant EPA in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act the authority to
devise emissions caps based on the generation shifting approach the
Agency took in the Clean Power Plan,” Justice John Roberts wrote in the
- The case was centered around
a 2015 Obama-era EPA climate rule known as the Clean Air Act, which
sought to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32% by 2030.
The Supreme Court delivered a massive blow to the Biden
administration’s climate change plan Thursday, severely limiting the
power of federal agencies.
The Court, in a 6-3 decision on West
Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), limited the agency’s
authority to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, significantly
curtailing the power of the federal agency. The decision restricts the
agency to regulating individual power plants and not the entire power
sector. (RELATED: Jen Psaki Says US Needs To Move Away From Crude Oil Altogether Amid Ukraine Crisis)
did not grant EPA in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act the authority
to devise emissions caps based on the generation shifting approach the
Agency took in the Clean Power Plan,” Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
case stems from an Obama-era EPA climate rule and addresses the scope
of Congress’s ability to delegate legislative authority to executive
In August 2015, the EPA adopted
the Clean Power Plan that sought to cut carbon emissions by 32% from power plants by 2030.
However, in early 2016, the Supreme Court blocked
the plan’s implementation in a 5-4 vote. Plaintiffs successfully argued
that the EPA had exceeded its congressional mandate under the 1970
Clean Air Act, which broadly authorizes the agency to issue the “best
system of emission reduction.”
The Trump administration repealed
the Clean Power Plan and created the Affordable Clean Energy Rule,
which included looser restrictions and allowed states to regulate their
“Unlike the Clean Power Plan, ACE adheres to the Clean Air Act and
gives states the regulatory certainty they need to continue to reduce
emissions and provide a dependable, diverse supply of electricity that
all Americans can afford,” former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement at the time.
College Associate Professor of Politics Joseph Postell said the case
has to do with the EPA’s authority to regulate major sources of air
pollution that are stationary, like smokestacks.
“Does the statute allow the Obama administration to force the state
of West Virginia to put more clean power into its energy grid as a means
of reducing carbon emissions or does the Clean Air Act force the states
to implement technology controls at the actual existing plants?”
Postell said the new Trump rules regulated only the
existing sources of air pollution rather than requiring new energy
generation from sources like wind and solar.
administration basically advanced version of what is now known as the
major questions doctrine,” Postell said. “When there is a question of
major importance or a major question. It has to be resolved by Congress
and cannot be kicked over to the agency.”
In 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated everything the day before Biden’s inauguration, according to SCOTUSblog. While the Biden Administration could reinstate the Clean Power Plan, it has instead chosen to draft alternate power plant emissions rules.
The Biden administration was awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling before releasing its plan, The Washington Post reported
Following the repeal, West Virginia led
a coalition of 20 other Republican states and coal companies to file an
appeal asking the Supreme Court to challenge the appeals court
The plaintiffs argued that the appeals court wrongly
grants “an agency unbridled power—functionally ‘no limits’—to decide
whether and how to decarbonize almost any sector of the economy.” They
asked the Supreme Court to preemptively intervene before the EPA issues
additional emissions reduction plans or rules using this authority.