Environmental Groups, CA Governor Respond to Supreme Court Ruling on West Virginia Vs. EPA


By Dan Bacher |

Washington, D.C. – On June 30, the United States Supreme Court released its controversial ruling in West Virginia v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, drawing dismay from environmental, climate justice and Indigenous groups and the California Governor for the court’s siding with the fossil fuel industry by stripping the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The 6-3 decision by the conservative majority found that Congress did not grant the EPA the authority to adopt on its own a regulatory scheme using the Clean Air Act to cap carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to combat global warming.   

“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body,” wrote Justice Roberts.  

Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, accusing the Court of siding with the fossil fuel industry:

“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. 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.” 

After the Supreme Court issued the decision stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate greenhouse gasses, environmental advocates in California asked Governor Gavin Newsom to “fill the void of climate leadership.”

 “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court makes it abundantly clear that action to phase out fossil fuels and regulate greenhouse gasses must come from our elected leaders, if not our court system,” said Food & Water Watch Founder and Executive Director Wenonah Hauter in a statement. “Governor Newsom has strengthened California’s abortion protections in response to the Court’s attack on women’s rights.” 

“He must take action now to ensure California slashes its greenhouse gas emissions and transitions to clean energy. The California Air Resources Board’s plan for carbon neutrality by 2045 is far too late, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling today. Newsom must stop accepting fossil fuel permits immediately and urge CARB to come up with a plan that not only meets this moment, but also secures a livable future for California,” she concluded.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said the court decision will accelerate climate impacts to the Delta and urged Congress to take action.

“Disempowering the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will accelerate climate change impacts to the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta,” Barrigan-Parrilla stated. “This will place vulnerable Delta communities in an even more precarious situation between drought, flood, and heat impacts. We vigorously oppose the court's decision today and encourage Congress to take action as soon as possible.” 

Elected Officials to Protect America  (EOPA) commented how the California Legislature gave approval on June 29 to an energy plan, AB 205, to purchase electricity from a group of high-polluting natural gas-fired plants on the Southern California coast that were scheduled to be retired in the next few years, and the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. They urged “bold action” by Newsom on the climate crisis in light of the Supreme Court decision and the California Legislature’s approval of AB 205.

“A separate provision of the bill would allow companies building solar farms, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries, as well as electric lines to connect those facilities to the grid, to opt in to an accelerated approval process that doesn’t require sign-off from county governments. Within nine months state officials would be required to conduct environmental reviews and approve or deny those projects. Within another nine months legal challenges to any project approvals would need to be resolved by state courts. The Assembly vote was 57-13, while the Senate approved it 27-8,” the group said in a statement. 

Over 435 elected officials, representing half of all Californians, have signed an EOPA California letter to Governor Newsom urging bold action on the climate crisis. 

“With fires, heatwaves and drought California must keep to the state law that says the electric grid must rid itself of fossil fuel generation by 2045,” said Heidi Harmon, Former Mayor San Luis Obispo, Senior Public Affairs Director of the Romero Institute’s Let’s Green CA, EOPA California Leadership Council. “This legislation, AB 205 will make that goal harder to reach. It takes us in the wrong direction. We should not be suffering from the inadequacies of a private utility company. It's time to put people over private interests.”

“California needs to lead America in combating the climate crisis and not add more greenhouse gases. Today's outrageous Supreme Court decision that guts the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to protect Americans with the Clean Air Act makes it abundantly clear that California must lead,” she stated.

“With the world having received a ‘Red Alert’ from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (PCC) for the future of life on earth due to GHG emissions, it is wrong and dangerous to continue on this path to continue our addiction to fossil fuels,” said Carmen Ramirez, Ventura County Supervisor, former Mayor Oxnard EOPA California Leadership Council.We can and must do better for the sake of future generations.” 

The Indigenous Environmental Network said the West Virginia v EPA Decision  “underwrites settler violence upon Indigenous Communities,” noting that the  decision comes on the heels of “two other destructive opinions, the rollback of Roe v. Wade and Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta.” 

“To be clear, the Supreme Court’s latest decisions underwrite continued settler violence perpetrated against Indigenous peoples, our lands, our bodies, our nations, and our futures,” the group said in a statement. “By circumventing well-settled precedent and statutory law, the conservative Court is reaching far beyond its constitutional authority, ‘legislating from the bench’ and is being used by the Right to push a full assault on the working class, BIPOC communities and tribal nations. However, these decisions do not prevent President Biden from taking executive action to stop the expansion of fossil fuels and declaring a climate emergency. We will continue to protect Mother Earth, defend our rights and confront interests who seek to destroy our futures.” 

In an action alert, the Sierra Club blasted the West Virginia v. EPA Decision, calling it the “biggest climate case in years” and “outrageous and dangerous. They slammed the Supreme Court's six conservative justices for making  “another devastating decision, eliminating the EPA's most effective tool to limit carbon pollution from power plants and damaging our nation's ability to tackle the climate crisis and protect our health.”  

“In this case, named West Virginia v. EPA, coal executives and their far-right allies attacked the authority of EPA to establish carbon pollution limits for coal- and gas-burning power plants that reflected the widespread availability of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels. Despite our best efforts, with Sierra Club lawyers and other attorneys defending EPA's authority, the Supreme Court's conservative majority sided with corporate polluters. This decision puts the profits of the powerful over the health of the people and significantly constrains the EPA's long standing authority and duty under the Clean Air Act to reduce climate-disrupting carbon pollution from existing power plants,” the Club stated.

The Club said the decision means Congress “has an even stronger imperative to act boldly -- and fast.” 

“In a 50-50 Senate, with one party unwilling to tackle the climate crisis, the best tool Congress has is through the budget reconciliation process that only requires a simple majority of senators to pass legislation,” the Club concluded.

Justia Opinion Summary of West Virginia v. United States Environmental Protection Agency,

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated the Clean Power Plan rule, which addressed carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, citing Section 111 of the Clean Air Act,” 42 U.S.C. 7411(d). 

Although the states set the enforceable rules governing existing sources, EPA determines the emissions limit with which they have to comply by determining the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER). In the Clean Power Plan, EPA determined that the BSER for existing coal and natural gas plants included “heat rate improvements” at coal-fired plants and “generation-shifting,” i.e., a shift in electricity production from existing coal-fired to natural-gas-fired plants and from both coal and gas plants to renewables (wind and solar).

An operator could reduce the regulated plant’s production of electricity, build or invest in new or existing equipment, or purchase emission allowances as part of a cap-and-trade regime. No existing coal plant could achieve the emissions performance rates without generation-shifting.   

The Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan in 2016. It was later repealed when EPA determined that it lacked authority “of this breadth.” EPA then promulgated the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, mandating equipment upgrades and operating practices. The D.C. Circuit held that EPA’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan rested on a mistaken reading of the Clean Air Act and vacated the ACE rule.

The Supreme Court reversed. Congress did not grant EPA the authority to devise emissions caps based on the Clean Power Plan's generation-shifting approach. Restructuring the nation’s mix of electricity generation cannot be the BSER under Section 111. Under the major questions doctrine, an agency must point to “clear congressional authorization” for such an unprecedented exercise of authority. 

On EPA’s view of Section 111(d), Congress implicitly tasked it alone with balancing vital considerations of national policy. Issues of electricity transmission and distribution are not within EPA’s traditional expertise. The Clean Power Plan “conveniently enabled" EPA to enact a program, cap-and-trade, that Congress rejected numerous times.

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