The Supreme Court has made it harder for the country to fight the ravages of climate change.
Yesterday, in a 6-3 decision, the court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to stop power stations from releasing pollution that causes global warming. The court ruled that Congress failed to give the agency authority to issue the broad regulations that many climate experts say could make a major difference — the kind of regulations that many administration officials Biden would have liked to implement.
Today’s newsletter will explain what the decision means – and also clarify what it doesn’t mean (because some of the early comments exaggerated the meaning of the decision). The bottom line is that the decision is important, but it does not eliminate the Biden administration’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Climate reporter Amy Westervelt summed up the decision, writing, “Not good, but also not as bad as it could have been. It’s quite narrow. Romany Webb of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law called the decision “a blow, but it’s far from the worst case scenario.”
The problem, according to many scientists, is that climate change poses such an enormous threat to the world – and the need to reduce the rate of warming is so urgent – that any decision that makes the task more difficult is worrisome. Extreme storms, heat waves, droughts and wildfires are already becoming more frequent. Some species are threatened with extinction. Glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising.
Yet the United States has made only modest progress in addressing climate change through federal policy in recent years. The Trump administration has largely denied the problem and has reversed Obama administration policies aimed at slowing global warming. The Biden administration has failed to push through its ambitious climate agenda due to a uniform Republican opposition and Democratic infighting. Now the Supreme Court has also made it more difficult.
What is still possible
The Biden administration had hoped to issue a major rule requiring electric utilities to cut carbon dioxide emissions, essentially forcing them to replace coal and gas plants with clean forms of electricity, like wind. , solar and nuclear. The justices ruled that when Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, it had no intention of giving the EPA such broad authority.
The EPA can still regulate power plants after the ruling, but more narrowly than before: the agency can push power plants to become more efficient, for example. “The way to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants is to shut down power plants and replace them with something cleaner,” said my colleague Coral Davenport. “And that’s not on the table.”
After yesterday, the EPA’s most important policy tools seem to involve other industries. The agency can still regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles, the biggest source of those emissions in the country — though the decision and the potential for future lawsuits may make the agency more cautious than it otherwise would be.
On Twitter, Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University, listed other ways government agencies could continue to fight climate change, including: federal rules applying to power plants newly built electrics; federal rules on leaks from oil and gas production; national and local rules in many areas; and private sector efforts to become more energy efficient, often subsidized by the government.
“A battle is lost (unsurprisingly, given this Supreme Court),” Gerrard wrote, “but the war on climate change continues.”
Learn more about the climate
The decision is the latest sign that the Republican Party is not concerned about climate change. The six majority justices were all Republican appointees; the three dissenters were all Democratic nominees.
Adam Liptak, Times correspondent on the Supreme Court, wrote: “Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, made only a mere allusion to the damage caused by climate change. Justice Elena Kagan began her dissent with a lengthy passage detailing the devastation facing the planet, including hurricanes, floods, famines, coastal erosion, mass migrations and political crises.
The math just got harder. The move has made the United States less likely to meet the climate goals set by Biden. And if the United States misses its targets, the world will likely miss its target, as The Times’ Climate Forward newsletter explains. (Register here.)
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SPORTS NEWS FROM ATHLETIC
A programming note: This week we are introducing a new section to this newsletter — a section on sports, written by the staff of The Athletic.
NBA superstar wants out: Kevin Durant asked to be traded from the Brooklyn Nets yesterday, a new story to be associated with the start of the league’s free agency period. Where could Durant land? Here are the possible commercial destinations.
UCLA and USC wreak havoc: Two mainstays of the Pac-12 leave for the Big Ten. It’s a decision that shakes the foundations of college football. Is the sport now down to just two power conferences?
Marla Hooch can still rake: It’s been 30 years since she threw home runs for the Rockford Peaches in “A League of Their Own.” Turns out actress Megan Cavanagh, now 61, can still hit them.
The Athletic, a New York Times company, is a subscription-based publication that provides in-depth, personalized sports coverage. Learn more about athletics.
Back for a few seconds
Maybe not all shows need second seasons — but many get one anyway. “The philosophy today is that if you box give people more of what they liked, so don’t waste time wondering if you shouldwrites television critic James Poniewozik.
“Only Murders in the Building,” which told a full story in its first season, returned this week. Other seemingly complete shows also returned: “Big Little Lies”, “The Flight Attendant”, “Russian Doll”. The second season of “Only Murders” still delivers even if it lacks originality, writes James.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was enviable. Here is the riddle of the day.
Here are today’s mini crosswords, and a hint: push (yourself) (five letters).
And here is today’s Wordle. After, use our bot to improve yourself.
Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. Until tomorrow. – David
PS Nice reading choice, Mr President (from the G7 meeting in Germany):
The Climate Court