West Virginia vs. EPA: Not As Bad As It Seems?
The Supreme Court recently ruled against EPA, limiting its ability to regulate coal-fired power plants. But the news may not be as dire as it looks.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a blow from the Supreme Court in late June when the court ruled against the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have required the nation’s electricity sector as a whole to reduce use of coal and bring more renewables online. Although the Clean Power Plan had already been repealed by the Trump administration, the state of West Virginia asked the court to rule on it anyway because it feared President Biden’s EPA would attempt to impose even more sweeping regulations.
Although at first blush the news seemed dire, subsequent analysis has suggested that the ruling is not as broad as many environmental advocates had feared.
“The ruling did not strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Lisa Friedman in a New York Times news article, “but it allowed only narrower policies to regulate how individual power plants operate.”
The Clean Power Plan was unique in that it set goals for the entire sector, thereby allowing carbon trading, rather than creating targets for each power supplier to meet. Now the Biden administration will have to revert to more conventional types of regulation in order to meet aggressive climate targets.
The ruling may also hobble the ability of any federal regulatory agency to interpret and execute laws, according to an analysis by Jay Duffy of the Clean Air Task Force. “The court told us … that they will look skeptically at regulations that protect public health, safety, and the environment if they seem too important, novel, or costly, and if they are based on a general directive, even where the agency involved has primary responsibility over the subject matter area,” Duffy writes. This is problematic, he argues, because “Congress generally writes laws in broad terms such that they can be adapted to changing problems and solutions by the technical experts working at agencies to address public health, safety, the environment, and the like.”
With that said, it’s worth noting that economic pressures are already shutting coal plants, which are more expensive to operate than those using natural gas or renewables. In fact, the grid had already reached the Clean Power Plan’s 2030 fuel-switching targets by 2019.
Melton, P. (2022, July 20). West Virginia vs. EPA: Not As Bad As It Seems?. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/newsbrief/west-virginia-vs-epa-not-bad-it-seems