Biden and EPA Seek Supreme Court Workaround

08.07.2022 - The administration of US president Joe Biden is looking for ways to work around the Supreme Court’s recent landmark ruling that limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in regulating emissions of greenhouse gases.

The court’s 6-3 decision last week concluded in essence that the EPA lacks broad authority to transform the nation’s electrical system away from fossil fuels. While it did not strip the agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions altogether, it narrowed its scope.

Biden’s plans to address climate change are seen as the widest sweeping ever announced by a US president, but most observers see little chance that Congress – to whom the Supreme Court wants to assign the responsibility – will act on the proposed legislation. The senators and representatives up to now have shown little interest in emissions control.

Even the president’s own party has done nothing to advance the cause. The case the justices ruled on was a challenge to the EPA’s authority by the coal mining state of West Virginia, whose powerful Democratic senator Joe Manchin continues to torpedo the administration’s agenda broadly. Last year, Biden had to rewrite his plan to replace coal and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy to deal with Manchin’s opposition.    

The president’s White House team nevertheless still clings to the believe that the goal of slashing emissions roughly in half by the end of this decade and fully eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035 is possible. The falling cost of renewable energy such as wind and solar could help, officials say.

 “While the court sided with special interests trying to take the country backwards, it did not take away EPA’s’ ability to regulate greenhouse gases and protect people from pollution,” Gina McCarthy, the White House climate change adviser, said.

Plans currently being explored include tighter federal regulations that would restrict pollutants emitted by coal-burning power plants such as soot, mercury and nitrous oxides and indirectly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Some observers have criticized the Biden administration’s “piecemeal” approach to climate legislation as making it harder to meet its ambitious targets, while others note that it looks like the only approach possible under the difficult circumstances.                 

John Larsen, a partner at the Rhodium Group, a US energy consultancy, noted that the administration’s backup strategies “are not likely to spur a rapid metamorphosis to clean energy unless the administration acts quickly and aggressively."

This year and early next are critically important for whether or not the goals the administration has set — both for the power sector and the economy as a whole — are going to be reachable,” Larsen said.

Joseph Goffman, Biden’s nominee as the EPA’s clean air chief, said in a statement that the agency is still analyzing the Supreme Court ruling but it doesn’t appear to torpedo the current strategy. “The goals can be reached, but it will take more actions across the government, not just through the EPA. We were never going to get there other than through an ensemble of policies.”

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Jounalist