By David M. Greenwald
The US Supreme Court struck a huge blow to efforts to fight climate changing, President Biden vowed to press forward, calling it a decision that “risks damaging our nation’s ability to keep our air clean.”
Republicans cheered the ruling, with Senator Mitch McConnell saying it limited the power of “unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.”
The 6-3 Court majority stripped the E.P.A. of “the power to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.” Bden called it another “devasting decision” one “that aims to take our country backwards.” He vowed to take action even as the court limited his ability to act, adding: “We cannot and will not ignore the danger to public health and existential threat the climate crisis poses.”
“The science confirms what we all see with our own eyes — the wildfires, droughts, extreme heat, and intense storms are endangering our lives and livelihoods,” President Biden said. “I will take action. My administration will continue using lawful executive authority, including the EPA’s legally-upheld authorities, to keep our air clean, protect public health, and tackle the climate crisis.”
Governor Newsom released a statement, “The Supreme Court sided with the fossil fuel industry, kneecapping the federal government’s basic ability to tackle climate change. Today’s ruling makes it even more imperative that California and other states succeed in our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”
He said, “While the court has once again turned back the clock, California refuses to go backward – we’re just getting started. California will remain the tentpole for this movement with record investments and aggressive policies to reduce pollution, to protect people from extreme weather, and to leave our children and grandchildren a world that’s better off than we found it.”
This is a huge blow – after the ruling, the EPA will have far less ability to limit CO2 from power plants which are a major source of GHG emissions in this country at a time when the planet is experiencing a catastrophic warming.
The NY Times said yesterday, “It’s one in a series of setbacks for Mr. Biden, who came into office with the most ambitious climate agenda of any president, pledging to the rest of the world that the United States, the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases, would cut that pollution in half by the end of the decade.”
How bad? Let’s put it this way, while everyone has focused on the abortion issue – and rightly so – this one might be the most catastrophic in a global sense.
“At this point I don’t see any way to hit the kind of targets they laid out,” said David G. Victor, an expert in climate policy at the University of California, San Diego, in an interview with the NY Times.
Scientists believe that the US must hit the targets that President Biden has laid out in order to limit the average temperature increase to 2.7 degree Fahrenheit compared to pre-Industrial Revolution averages.
Scientists have said, “That is the threshold beyond which the likelihood significantly increases of catastrophic impacts such as deadly heat waves, drought, wildfire and storms.”
Already the planet has warmed by 1.1 degree Celsius, and we have seen the impact in terms of heat waves, drought, wife, and severe storms.
The ruling is compounded by the fact that Congress has failed to act on climate change.
The Times notes, “The centerpiece of the president’s climate plan, legislation to replace coal and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy, was deleted from a major domestic policy bill last fall after objections from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Mr. Manchin, who has personal financial ties to the coal industry, has been able to single-handedly set the limits of Mr. Biden’s legislative ambitions as the key swing vote in an evenly divided Senate.”
Biden had been able to circumvent that blockage “by directing the E.P.A. to craft tough new limits on tailpipe emissions to speed up adoption of electric vehicles. But those rules are already under legal assault in lower courts by many of the same plaintiffs who were victorious in this week’s Supreme Court case.”
“The judicial branch and the legislative branch are seriously hindering Joe Biden’s ability to get the job done on climate,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard, who served on Mr. Biden’s E.P.A. transition team. “A lot of the optimism that everyone had a year ago is being replaced by pessimism. They’re running out of options right now.”
The Biden administration believes that the US could meet its targets by cobbling together a mix of executive actions.
“Ambitious climate action presents a singular opportunity to ensure U.S. global competitiveness, create jobs, lower costs for families, and protect people’s health and well being, especially those who’ve long suffered the burden of inaction,” Michael S. Regan, the E.P.A. administrator, said in a statement. “E.P.A. will move forward with lawfully setting and implementing environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental harm.”
The Times points out that the SCOTUS ruling did leave intact “E.P.A.’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions but blocked any attempt by the agency to write regulations so broad that they force the closure of coal-fired plants, which generate the most carbon dioxide, or compel utilities to switch from fossil fuels to wind, solar and other clean sources.”
Meanwhile the EPA will still issue tougher regulations to control methane.
“Those air pollution rules will have co-benefits — as they are being enforced, they will squeeze out some CO2 pollution,” said Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Santa Barbara, California, who has advised congressional Democrats on climate legislation. “It wouldn’t be the same amount. Every time we take a tool off the table we’re in a worse position.”
A good portion of the country’s leadership doesn’t seem to care – even as the impact of climate change becomes more and more evident with each passing year.