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Supreme Court: EPA’s Limit on Emissions Is Hot Air

The state of West Virginia earned a victory over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions at coal powered plants like Marshall County’s Mitchell Plant. (File Photo)

Click here to read the full text of the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA

CHARLESTON – West Virginia scored a victory against the Environmental Protection Agency from the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday in a case that could have broader implications over government regulations.

In a 6-3 ruling, the majority of the justices determined the EPA overstepped its authority in how it regulates greenhouse gas emissions. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,'” Roberts wrote. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme … A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

West Virginia and 18 other states challenged a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year that blocked the Affordable Clean Energy rule, a Trump-era rule that replaced the EPA’s previous regulation, the Clean Power Plan, with less stringent regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions. Morrisey appealed the case to the Supreme Court in April 2021.

“For many years, we argued that the EPA only had a narrow bit of authority to regulate carbon emissions. I think today amplified that point,” Morrisey said during a Thursday afternoon press conference. “When you have something this big, something with vast economic and political significance, that represents an extraordinary question and that means Congress needs to step in as opposed to unelected bureaucrats.”

The Supreme Court previously blocked the Clean Power Plan rule in 2016, first proposed under former President Barack Obama, preventing the rule from taking effect. The rule would have given expansive powers to the EPA to regulate the carbon dioxide emissions of coal-fired power plants. Morrisey led a 27-state coalition to secure the 2016 stay of the Clean Power Plan.

Former President Donald Trump scrapped the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with the ACE rule. The D.C. Circuit vacated the ACE rule in January, requiring the EPA to start over from scratch on a new rule. President Joe Biden announced a goal in April of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by between 50% and 52% of 2005 levels by 2030.

“Our founders envisioned that when you have a major issue of the day, that Congress, not the unelected bureaucrats, make the decision,” Morrisey said. “That’s because they wanted West Virginia, Texas, New York, California, all of the states and the people’s representatives to make the decision. They didn’t want to have unelected bureaucrats reach down and try to seize power where it didn’t exist.”

Speaking during a Thursday virtual briefing from the Capitol in Charleston, Gov. Jim Justice praised Morrisey for his court victory. Justice, whose family owns coal mining operations in multiple states, said Thursday’s decision would help keep more coal-fired power plants in the state from shutting down.

“This is really, really big news,” Justice said, having just spoken to Morrisey prior to the virtual briefing, “I applaud the Supreme Court because this has been long, long, long overdue. This ruling in favor of West Virginia will stop unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., from being able to unilaterally decarbonize our economy just because they feel like it.”

Opponents of West Virginia’s legal case believe it is clear the EPA does have the authority to broadly regulate greenhouse emissions. They see any ruling against the EPA’s authority as a sign that other environmental regulations could be at risk.

“The Supreme Court has constrained the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions by shifting generation from carbon-emitting electricity to less carbon-emitting technology,” said Emmett Pepper, policy director for Energy Efficient WV. “Energy efficiency is and should be part of any carbon reduction strategy because it is highly cost-effective.”

“By restricting how the EPA can address climate-altering carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, this Supreme Court ruling endangers all of us and future generations, and the harm will be felt most acutely in communities that are already disadvantaged,” said Tom Cormons, executive director of Appalachian Voices.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., led 47 members of Congress in filing an amicus brief last year in support of West Virginia’s lawsuit. Capito, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the decision affirmed that the EPA was going beyond its scope.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is welcome news and further proves that EPA overstepped its authority by imposing enormously burdensome regulations on states to reconfigure our electric grid despite Congress’s rejection,” Capito said. “I congratulate Attorney General Morrisey for his leadership on this important victory for West Virginia and the entire nation, which ensures that EPA can never issue an overreaching regulation like the Clean Power Plan again.”

Two of West Virginia’s congressional delegation who were opponents in the May Republican primary for the new 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., both were in agreement that the court made the right decision.

“West Virginians know better than most the cost of EPA overreach, and I am proud that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey led the effort, on behalf of over 20 states, in the U.S. Supreme Court to protect our state’s energy workers against the unelected bureaucrats who continue to wage war on American energy production,” McKinley said.

“Lawmakers with a direct connection to the people they represent should be making decisions on issues like the future of energy policy in the United States,” Mooney said. “Scaling back the Biden administration’s extreme climate overreach on domestic energy producers is a vital step in expanding American energy independence.”


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