ENVIRONMENT – “A new devastating decision” which aims to bring the United States “backwards”. Here’s how the White House called the decision taken this Thursday, June 30 by the US Supreme Court to limit the means available to the government to fight against the atmospheric pollution. One more conservative decision from the supreme authority, a sign that Donald Trump’s legacy wears like a charm.
Indeed, after the recent abortion decision (which states can now freely prohibit), this is further proof of the power given by the former president to this institution, in which he placed several extremely conservative personalities. In a majority of six judges against three progressives, the Republicans use the Supreme Court at their leisure to push their ideas, with very important consequences.
Also after having enshrined the right to bear a firearm everywhere outside the home, and this despite the maddening repetition of fatal shootings, the jurisdiction could now tackle additional gains, such as same-sex marriage, the right to have certain sexual practices such as sodomy or access to contraception, for example.
A “frightening” decision for progressive judges
This Thursday, it is therefore the climate that was targeted by a major decision of the body. The high court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could not enact general rules to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, which produce nearly 20% of electricity in the United States.
The White House immediately denounced this reversal and called on Congress to “put America on the path to a cleaner and more secure energy future”.
The judgment was adopted by the six conservative magistrates of the Court. “Putting a limit on carbon dioxide emissions at a level that would require a nationwide move away from coal to generate electricity could be a relevant solution to today’s crisis. But it is not credible that Congress gave the EPA the authority to pass such a measure,” wrote Judge John Roberts on their behalf.
But their three progressive colleagues dissociated themselves from a decision deemed “frightening”. “The Court has stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of the power Congress gave it to address ‘the most pressing problem of our time,'” wrote Judge Elena Kagan, recalling that the six hottest years have been recorded over the past decade.
Reflecting the divisions of American society on environmental issues, the decision was immediately welcomed by the Republican Party, hostile to any federal regulation and defender of fossil fuels. “Today, the Supreme Court is giving power back to the people,” said its leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, criticizing Democratic President Joe Biden “for waging a war against affordable energy” despite inflation.
America marginalized globally
But the Democrats, like the young elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, judged the decision “catastrophic”. “Our planet is on fire and this extremist Supreme Court is destroying the ability of the federal power to fight,” added Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Appalled, environmental defense organizations highlighted the gap with the rest of the world. “The decision threatens the United States with being relegated far behind our international partners who are accelerating efforts to meet their climate commitments,” said Nathaniel Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
After the about-face on abortion last week, this judgment represents a new change of foot at the Supreme Court. In 2007, it had decided by a narrow majority that the EPA was competent to regulate the emissions of gases responsible for global warming, in the same way that it is charged by a law of the 1960s with limiting air pollution.
But since then, the former Republican president Donald Trump, a hostile climatosceptic to any restrictive measure for the industry, brought three magistrates into the temple of American law, cementing its conservative majority.
A lost bet for Joe Biden and his administration
Beyond the EPA, their decision could limit the efforts of all federal regulatory agencies, including that on occupational health and safety (OSHA). “The Court has taken steps to control the EPA but also all the administrative agencies”, analyzes Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, on Twitter. For him, “the Court simply refused to let an executive agency decree that it has jurisdiction”.
The Democrats are therefore also worried about the risk of seeing several regulations fall in the coming months. This “reactionary and extremist” Court “returns the country to a time when the sharks of industry had all the powers”, regretted the leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate Chuck Schumer.
Concretely, the file at the heart of the decision finds its source in an ambitious plan adopted in 2015 by Barack Obama to reduce CO2 emissions. This “Clean Power Plan”, whose implementation fell to the EPA, had been blocked before coming into force.
In 2019, Donald Trump published his own “Affordable Clean Energy Rule”, limiting the scope of the EPA’s action within each electricity production site, without authorizing it to remodel the entire network. A federal court having invalidated this draft, several conservative states and the coal industry asked the Supreme Court to intervene and clarify the powers of the EPA.
The government of Democrat Joe Biden had let it be known that it did not intend to resuscitate Barack Obama’s plan and had asked the High Court to declare the file obsolete to avoid a decision with harmful consequences. His bet failed.
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