The US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the government’s main environmental agency cannot enact sweeping limits on greenhouse gases, severely limiting President Joe Biden’s administration’s power to fight climate change.
By a majority of 6 to 3, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency did not have the authority to set sweeping caps on emissions from coal-fired power plants, which generate nearly 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States.
The decision throws back Biden’s hopes of using the EPA to cut emissions to meet global climate goals.
It was a significant victory for the coal mining and power plant industry, which was placed under strict limits in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama’s administration in an effort to reduce carbon pollution.
It was also a victory for Conservatives who campaigned against government regulation of the industry, with the majority of the court including three right-wing judges appointed by former President Donald Trump, who had sought to weaken the EPA.
While the EPA had the power to regulate individual plants, the court ruled, Congress hadn’t given it broad powers to set limits on all power-generating units.
The majority of judges said they recognized that capping carbon emissions to move away from coal-fired power could be “a sensible solution” to global warming.
But they said the case involves a “major question” of US government and jurisdiction and that the EPA must be specifically delegated such powers by lawmakers.
“It is not plausible that Congress would have given EPA the authority to enact such a regulatory regime on its own,” they said.
“A decision of such magnitude and scope rests with Congress itself or an agency acting under a clear delegation from that representative body,” they said.
The three-strong Liberal minority on the cases castigated the majority for overruling the powers the EPA actually had.
“Today the court will strip the Environmental Protection Agency of the powers Congress gave it to respond to ‘the most pressing environmental challenge of our time,'” they said.
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