Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases emissions from power plants across the country. This is a major blow to the agency’s ability to combat climate change.
The decision is not likely to affect Minnesota’s transition towards renewable energy or the state’s ability reduce its own emissions. However, environmental advocates argue that the loss of federal efforts highlights the need to take more immediate action at the state level.
The case centers around President Barack Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan. This plan was designed to help states set their own goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and shift to renewable energy sources like wind or solar. While President Donald Trump repealed the plan in 2017, several states attorneys general and coal companies challenged the regulations in court.
The court ruled that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA authority to require power plants switch to renewable energy. A majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts was the court’s decision.
The opinion states that “Capping carbon dioxide emissions to a level that will force the country to stop using coal to generate electricity may be an enlightening’solution’ to the crisis of today.”
Roberts stated that Congress or an agency acting under clear delegation from the representative body can make a decision of this magnitude and consequence.
Joanne Spalding (chief climate council for Sierra Club’s environmental legal program) said that the ruling confirms the EPA’s ability regulate greenhouse gas emissions. She said that it removes the most powerful and efficient tool of the federal agency to regulate the nation’s largest stationary sources for greenhouse gas pollution.
Spalding stated that the problem is that it is the most efficient system to reduce emissions. Therefore, it effectively eviscerated EPA authority. It will now have to rely upon less efficient and more costly systems of emission reductions.
Jesse Berman, assistant professor in environmental health sciences at University of Minnesota, stated that “we know that climate change is happening now” and that putting off the problem for decades will not make it any better. “So, while I believe that we will shift in this direction, it becomes a slower and more tedious process without these regulatory tools.”
Berman stated that fossil fuel power plants have switched to renewable energy in recent years due to the fall in the prices of solar panels and wind turbines. More people are demanding clean energy. The Supreme Court ruling pushes the United States further away from its climate change goals. This is despite the fact that there are more flooding events, wildfires and heat waves, as well as droughts, due to climate change.
He also stated that the other effect is that giving legislative bodies more power would undermine the scientific process that an agency such as the EPA uses for developing regulations and result in less informed decisions that could be motivated by politics.
Berman stated that “many (congresspersons), their aides, and not necessarily the scientists who really are experts in this field” were not representative of them. You have to be careful that decisions are not made on the basis of scientific principles, but rather, when you take it and present it to a group without that expertise.
Minnesota’s ruling on
Chief legal officer of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy Kevin Reuther said that the Supreme Court decision does not affect Minnesota’s ability to reduce its emissions, as the state has outpaced federal standards. Gov. Tim Walz announced plans for being 100 percent carbon-free by 2040. Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power and Minnesota Power intend to phase out their coal-fired power stations by 2030 and 2035, respective.
Reuther stated that the state still “failing miserably” in meeting its climate goals. The ruling emphasizes the state’s need to take urgent action.
Reuther stated, “This is a major regulatory tool that was removed from the table for EPA. That really means that Minnesota as well as other states must step up.”
The Minnesota legislatures have set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 15 percent, 30 percent, and 80 percent respectively by 2015, 2025, 2025, 2025, 2025, 2050, and 2050, respectively, from 2005 levels. Minnesota is still far behind other states in the transition to cleaner energy, but it failed to achieve its 2015 goal. It also hasn’t met its 2025 or 2050 goals.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which was prompted to seek other ways to reduce carbon emission, turned to transportation, which accounts approximately 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota. This sector is the largest source of carbon emissions. Walz’s “Clean Cars” plan was implemented and the agency adopted California’s strictest vehicle emission standards.
Republicans in Congress objected to the standards. They cited familiar concerns that the agency had exceeded its boundaries and that lawmakers have the power to adopt them. A judge of administrative law upheld the MPCA’s efforts and ruled that the existing statutes give the state agency the authority for the rules to be adopted.
According to Darin Broton, a spokesperson for the MPCA, the ruling is still being reviewed by them.
Reuther stated that plans have been made to meet the state’s climate goals. However, it is now “just an matter of action.” Broton stated that further delay in codifying those plans into law, which would make them more enforceable, will only worsen the problem.
Broton stated that “Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are not going to inherit a climate like we have been experiencing.” “We must take all of the plans we have and make policy around them. Then we can actually reduce our emissions in line with the goals we have in statute.”