SCOTUS Should Allow EPA to Address Climate Pollution
Recently, the Supreme Court heard arguments in West Virginia v. EPA, a case challenging Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) long-standing authority to address climate pollution from power plants. Two decades ago, in the Whitman v. American Trucking Association case, Justice Scalia wrote for a unanimous Court affirming EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act (1970) to protect the American people from air pollution and rejecting similarly sweeping legal challenges. Justice Scalia held EPA’s authority “fits comfortably within the scope of discretion permitted by our precedent.”
The EPA is one of the world’s leading environmental and human health research organizations. Founded December 2, 1970, the federal government empowered the EPA to conduct research, create regulations, and enforce standards on pollutants within the United States. Since its inception, the EPA has enacted momentous policies to prevent the pollution of the environment and protect the health of all Americans. As the population grows, cities expand outward and industries change, our laws must also adapt to continue to protect the air, water, and land we inhabit. Over the past decade, the efforts of the EPA to curb pollution have been met with combativeness from coal and oil producing states.
The saga of lawsuits that culminates in the present case before the Supreme Court began in 2009 with harrowing reports of climate change. The Obama Administration and the EPA issued the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in 2015 that created a national standard for carbon emissions. However, just one year later the Supreme Court halted enforcement of the CPP until lower courts reviewed lawsuits against the Plan. The CPP was terminated in 2017 by an executive order of President Trump, and the EPA moved to replace the CPP with the Affordable Clean Energy rule.
While the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the Affordable Clean Energy rule as “a mistaken reading of the Clean Air Act,” it did assert that the EPA has the authority to decide the best system for combatting climate change and struck down Trump’s repeal of the CPP. Following the ruling, the EPA did not seek to revive the CPP. Instead, it shifted its focus to curbing pollution from power plants. This history brings us to the present case, in which 16 coal producing states are suing the EPA under the “major question doctrine.” The major question here is whether Congress must authorize every policy by an agency, or can agencies act with authority?
While West Virginia, Alabama, Alaska, and other coal-powered states have brought this case to the Court, the directly regulated companies presented arguments before the Supreme Court supporting the EPA’s authority. That’s because power plant owners recognize the importance of addressing climate pollution in a commonsense way, and cost-effective solutions are at hand, which are creating jobs in all parts of our nation. And they recognize the destabilizing impact that the coal companies’ arguments would have on the industry.
The power companies are not alone. The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Lung Association have provided crucial health information supporting EPA’s authority to address climate pollution. Our nation’s leading businesses, employers and manufacturers including Apple, Amazon, Cummins, and Siemens are supporting EPA action before the High Court. They too recognize common sense EPA action under the Clean Air Act strengthens our environment and our economy.
The broad support of EPA policies by leading companies and organizations is far more than a mere marketing strategy. Companies across the United States know the EPA’s policies and actions are grounded in scientific research. Science provides the foundation for the EPA, and its research incorporates science and engineering that meets the highest standards for integrity, peer review, transparency, and ethics. As such, this case is not just about the breadth of one agency’s authority; the outcome of the case will determine the physical and economic health of the United States for years to come.
Americans everywhere are already facing harm from climate change. Sea levels are rising and threatening to flood our coasts and wildfires, hurricanes, and other climate-related disasters are growing more frequent, more dangerous, and more costly. If the Court undermines EPA’s ability to address power plant pollution, it would damage our ability to protect ourselves and our communities. It would put the health and safety of Americans at risk. Such an action could also damage our national security and our economy.
The world is racing to develop new clean energy technologies to fight climate change, and those technologies will be the industries – and the jobs – of the future. We need to make sure that American companies are the ones that lead the world in those technologies, and that the jobs created go to our workers here at home. EPA standards are vital for helping American businesses with the long-term planning and investment needed for clean energy innovation. Moreover, the tragedy in Ukraine underscores the national security imperatives of clean energy solutions that do not depend on fuels from hostile nations – and that are made in America. As a result of these dynamics, we can grow our economy and protect our environment simultaneously.
As a life-long Republican and a former Governor of the great state of New Jersey, I know that climate change is a threat to us all and that job creation is a priority for leaders on both sides of the aisle. As a former head of EPA, I know the agency has the expertise to address climate pollution and the clear authority – from Congress, through our nation’s Clean Air Act – to do so. As an American, I know that we’ll all be better off with an EPA that is able to do its job.
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