On March 26, 2021, steam rises from the cooling tower of a coal-fired power plant at Duke Energy’s Crystal River Energy Complex in Crystal River, Florida, USA.
Dane Squirrel | Reuters
Thursday, Supreme Court Changed the rules of the game In competition to limit global warming by limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to mandate carbon emissions.
Specifically, the court is West Virginia v. EPA, and it is beyond the EPA’s authority to direct power generation from one source, such as coal, to another, such as wind and solar. I have ruled that there is such a big obligation. Should come only from Congress.
“There is little reason to think that Congress has assigned such a decision to the agency,” Judge John Roberts wrote in 6-3. decision, Other conservative members of the court have joined. “The basic and consequential trade-offs associated with such choices would have been intended by Congress for itself.”
This decision relies on a recent framework called the “Dogma of Key Questions”, where government agencies are to carry out the will of Parliament and its elected leaders and decide on their own issues. Claims not to. By regulating such huge elements of the economy, such as how electricity is generated, the EPA was overkill, the ruling said.
“The Constitution does not allow government agencies to use pen and telephone regulations in place of laws passed by national representatives,” Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote in an agreed statement.
Judge Elena Kagan wrote a fierce opposition arguing that it is dangerous to deprive the EPA of power when the United States (and much of the world) fails to meet its decarbonization goals. “If current emissions continue, children born this year will be able to live to see parts of the east coast swallowed by the ocean,” Cagan wrote.
“Anything else this court knows has no clue as to how to deal with climate change, and let’s be clear: the bets here are high. Still, the court is today on power plants. Prevents Parliamentary-approved actions to curb carbon dioxide Courts appoint climate policy decision makers, not parliamentary or specialized bodies. No more horrifying things can be considered. ” Stated.
Nonetheless, the court restricted EPA’s powers, but did not help EPA deal with carbon emissions. Still, it is possible to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, especially at certain power plants. Enforcement may require caution, but states can also pass their own laws.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel providers will use a decision to delay decarbonization and challenge future legislation in lawsuits, but clean energy will be cheaper and could accelerate the transition from fossil fuels without government intervention. there is.
EPA administrator Michael S. Regan said In a statement Thursday, he was “extremely disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision,” but “legally set environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental damage.” And move forward with implementation. “
“This is a narrow technical and procedural decision with relatively limited impact on the EPA’s general authorities,” Gilbert told CNBC. “The court left the door open for the Biden administration to use site-specific opportunities to set standards, and other systematic ways to reduce emissions that do not require alternation of generations. The method is the same. “
Mandating to maximize the efficiency of coal-fired power plants can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% to 15%. Eric SchaeferManaging Director Environmental protection projectA non-profit, non-partisan organization aimed at strengthening policies to protect public health and the environment.
Schaefer also told CNBC that the EPA could mandate emission reductions by implementing standards requiring the modification of coal-fired power plants to burn natural gas. Burning natural gas produces about 40% less carbon dioxide than coal and produces the same amount of electricity. According to the US Energy Information Administration..
Carbon recovery and sequestration techniques could also help existing plants minimize greenhouse gas emissions at the plant level, Schaefer said, but the techniques are still exorbitantly expensive. ..
“The EPA needs to take costs into account when setting standards for carbon emissions from power plants,” Schaefer told CNBC. “Required carbon sequestration of existing plants is unlikely to go through a rally because it is very expensive and unlikely to be the basis for revised standards.”
If the EPA forces coal-fired power plants to convert to natural gas or carry out carbon recovery, it could eventually shut down coal-fired power plants and accelerate the transition to renewable energy. “Compliance costs are too difficult to handle at major facilities,” Gilbert told CNBC.
Schaeffer also agrees that the Supreme Court still leaves the EPA with meaningful opportunities for action.
“At least the court has made it clear that the EPA can impose carbon emissions on certain power plants based on efficiency improvements and fuel switching. That approach can actually impose fairly stringent limits,” Schaefer said. I told CNBC.
Beyond the EPA, state governments can mandate emission targets, says Jennifer K. RushlowDirector, Environmental Law Center, Vermont Law School.
“A significant number of states now have greenhouse gas emission limits for the economy as a whole, often referred to as the Global Warming Solutions Act,” Rushlow told CNBC. She said California and Massachusetts were the first states to pass such a GWSA law.
Enforcing GWSA laws in these states can be difficult.
“In many states, these laws are not explicitly enforceable by third parties, so if the state does not take sufficient steps, the law will simply be ambitious, but in limited cases. Enforcement was possible, “says Rushlow.
She knows from experience. She filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts’ Kane Environmental Protection Agency and succeeded in taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Vermont also has a global warming control law that can revitalize the state and implement emission measures. “If the state’s GWSA could have this kind of tooth, they would have a real chance of making a difference,” Rushlow told CNBC. “Of course, climate change is a global issue, so we need more than a few states to carry out these efforts.”
The ruling may not be as dire as it used to be, but experts believe that fossil fuel profits can help delay regulation by paving the way for the court to challenge the new regulation.
“I clearly have two hearts here. On the other hand, this is a fairly narrow ruling, at least compared to what could have happened. It’s the silver lining and partial good news of the day. ” Wagner GernaudA climate economist at Columbia Business School told CNBC.
“On the other hand, the fossil industry, the coal stakeholder, knows they are losing the war. They rely only on what helps delay the inevitable.” So, this ruling limits regulatory options and hands over coal-fired power plants. Another sparse lifeline. “
In particular, the ruling opens the door to more proceedings, which will inevitably delay decarbonization.
“Of course, this is not the end. EPA regulations, or laws, are also proceedings. All these delays add up and the same applies. Delays are a victory for fossils. / Coal benefits, and others. The loss of everyone. “
“Yes, the EPA can regulate the coal itself, which makes it (more) expensive and could result in some companies withdrawing from it. But that happened. Whenever the plant probably shouts and sue fouls, the court agrees (probably) with SCOTUS’s ruling, saying that regulation isn’t too burdensome so that it doesn’t lead to a fuel switch. We interpret it as being, and we are back at the beginning. “
Government action is still needed to reduce carbon emissions in the long run, but private markets could force this issue sooner. This is because clean energy is rapidly becoming the cheapest form of energy, one expert said.
“As many believe, this decision is not important to the electrical industry in the long run. The private sector is already demanding low carbon energy, whether renewable or natural gas. Low carbon sources are very costly-competitive, “. Michael P. Vandenberg, A professor of environmental law at Vanderbilt Law School, told CNBC. “Every year we get a billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emission reductions from the private sector, which is the same amount that Germany completely eliminates that emission.”
Vandenberg is optimistic about the future because he didn’t expect the federal government to take meaningful action on climate change anyway.
“I predicted that the government wouldn’t do enough about 10 years ago, so I’ve had two major alternatives designed to reduce emissions over the past decade without major federal government action. We’ve been developing the idea, “Vandenbergh told CNBC. These two prongs are private sectors that inspire individuals to change their behavior and increase the energy efficiency of their homes. “By increasing the energy efficiency of the home, we can get about 500 million tonnes,” Vandenbergh told CNBC.
“These aren’t solutions, but they can give voters time to overcome barriers to federal action,” Vandenberg said.