Supreme Court Torpedos Clean Air


By: Mario Molina

Photo by Micheli Oliver

Dear POW Community,

If you’ve been getting outside, you’ve noticed it’s been a hot June. Summer is only starting, and already this month heat waves are setting all-time, high-temperature records worldwide, including the Arctic. Much like the characters in “Don’t Look Up,” scientists are running out of ways to tell us how urgent it is that we get off fossil fuels. Delays are dangerous.

The Supreme Court just issued a dangerous ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA. The petitioners, made up of coal companies and 19 Attorney Generals from fossil fuel-heavy states, questioned the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to broadly regulate carbon pollution from coal fired power plants.

In 2015, POW was a strong advocate of the Clean Power Plan, under which the EPA would require states to reduce CO2 pollution from coal and accelerate the transition to clean energy. The plan set targets and gave the states flexibility on how to achieve them. Several states and coal companies sued. Then in 2017, the Trump administration nixed the plan.

So why is this case a big deal?

Imagine yourself in a raft on a commercial trip down the Gauley River in West Virginia (a serious class IV) where critical decisions have to be made quickly to avoid disaster. Instead of allowing the knowledgeable guide to make the calls, the company sets a new policy requiring a 51% majority of the crew to vote on a plan for how to navigate each rapid. With this ruling, the court is taking the position that according to the US Constitution the EPA does not have the authority to implement plans on how to regulate carbon pollution from power plants (frustrating, since regulating pollution is the agency’s raison d’etre).

The ruling requires Congress to legislate a clear mandate before any agency can act and has implications far beyond the defunct Clean Power Plan. It sets a precedent that handicaps the effectiveness of all agencies under the Executive Branch including the Department of Interior, Energy, Transportation, etc. Agencies that we have entrusted with the power to execute the mandate of a democratically-elected administration because of their expertise in their areas of purview. The Supreme Court was never intended to be responsible for setting policy and administrative agencies shouldn’t have to wait on Congress to do the work they are best at.

The Clean Air Act, a bipartisan, unanimous foundational environmental law passed in 1970 under the Nixon Administration laid out a mandate for the EPA to use “the best system of emissions reduction” for polluting power plants. Sure, it didn’t specifically say that the EPA can regulate a state’s overall energy mix, but moving away from coal is the best way to reduce carbon pollution.

Now, we must rely on Congress to pass legislation that reiterates the EPA’s authority to require states to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector. Congress is divided and slow to act, especially on climate issues. We must change that.

The urgency for a transition away from carbon pollution to clean energy is clear. We need a Congress that will put stewardship of the environment and our common ground, the land, above political bickering. As a member of the Outdoor State, you have a role to play. Today’s tough draw requires us to show up in our democracy; speak out to advocate for clean air, and most of all vote for a healthy planet that can sustain the places we live and lifestyles we love.

Midterm elections are coming this fall. VOTE.

Belong to the solution!
Mario Molina
Executive Director

Mario Molina

Author: Mario Molina

An avid alpinist, snowboarder, mountain biker, guide, and life adventurer, Molina previously served as international director at The Climate Reality Project, where he designed the organization’s climate leadership trainings and oversaw its post-Paris Agreement international strategy. Prior to his work at Climate Reality, Molina led strategy and programs as deputy director at the Alliance for […]