The Supreme Court’s climate decision, and where we go from here
This week, the Supreme Court issued a decision in West Virginia v Environmental Protection Agency that poses a major challenge to securing a healthier climate for the next seven generations. By deciding to limit the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions, the Supreme Court sided with profit-motivated fossil fuel supporters who threaten our health.
To understand this decision and what it means, it’s helpful to look back at a critical way our government addresses climate change and clean air. For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has held broad authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that warm our planet. With the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, Congress delegated authority to write and enforce air pollution rules to the Environmental Protection Agency when Congress did not have any existing guidance otherwise. This is especially important because Congress has so many issues on its plate, isn’t always meeting year-round, and, especially these days, has trouble reaching agreement.
That’s why so many of the most important climate, environmental and public health decisions that go on behind the scenes are made regularly by experts at the EPA, who are squarely focused on a healthy planet and can act more quickly. Decisions like: should utilities and automakers be allowed to build whatever power plants and vehicles they want? Or should they do their part in the transition to clean energy and zero emissions vehicles, while improving air quality in our communities? These departments engage with the American public and industry leaders, then create rules for these major industries to live by, set achievable objectives, and enforce these rules to ensure we are meeting our environmental and climate goals.
It’s a strong process we need, because we face a climate emergency–so our leaders need to act, and fast. What’s more, utilities and automakers are exactly the kind of industries that need to be monitored and regulated. If left to their own devices, we’ve seen what these companies can do: turn our communities, particularly under-resourced communities and communities of color, into sites for dirty fossil fuel plants and vehicles spewing cancer-causing chemicals–along with the dirty air and water that results from them. They’ll also be free to pump as many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as they want. Given how no country has contributed as heavily to climate change as the United States, the authority for the EPA to create and enforce emissions-related regulations is a powerful tool to limit the effects of climate change. We also feel the positive effects of people and climate-friendly rules in our everyday lives–whether it’s saving fuel at the pump or breathing cleaner air in our neighborhoods.
But the Supreme Court said the EPA lacks the authority to institute this approach –just as scientists are ringing the alarm bell, telling us we need to rapidly end our reliance on fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy. By taking this kind of authority away from the EPA, a body committed to protecting our air and water, and saying such plans must be created by a Congress that cannot agree on much, it means major decisions on how and where we will address climate change will go unmade, and major polluters are much more free to do as they please. Today’s decision was the product of years of legal advocacy from coal companies, who are among the parties that filed the lawsuit.
In the face of this decision, Seventh Generation is responding with action. The Supreme Court’s attack on the Clean Air Act does nothing to undermine Biden’s authority under other bedrock laws to follow through on his climate promises using executive action. We will continue to call–even more forcefully–for President Biden to declare a climate emergency, and use his authority to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure on federal lands. If President Biden is truly the “Climate President” he told Americans he planned to be, he cannot allow 24 different fossil fuel projects that would release 1.6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases–every year–to proceed. Join us by clicking here to tell President Biden: choose people over fossil fuels, and keep the latter in the ground. In this work, we stand with the People vs Fossil Fuels coalition, a joint effort of over 1200 organizations across the US.
We must also elect more climate champions to Congress. If the Supreme Court says the climate should depend on Congress, then let’s elect a Congress that’s friendly to our climate. If we succeed, we’ll win a Congress that will join other major industrialized nations and put a landmark climate bill on President Biden’s desk that takes aggressive action to meaningfully address carbon emissions while prioritizing environmental justice for communities most impacted by a warming planet. Click here to register to vote if you haven’t already, and find out what’s on your ballot–all courtesy of the Vote411 tool from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. With many state primaries happening just around the corner, and key nationwide elections this fall, there’s no better time to make your voice heard.
The Supreme Court has a say, but not the only say–and we know Americans are with us. Poll after poll show large majorities of the American public want aggressive action to tackle climate change, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with tens of millions of Americans, who are united in wanting a strong climate for themselves, their families, and those who will come after us. The next seven generations will feel the outcome of June 2022. The only question is whether we leave behind a climate disaster, or a more secure, healthier planet. Let’s act boldly and quickly to respond and win a victory for our health.