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5 Jul, 2022 12:29

The US Supreme Court’s carbon emissions decision impacts the whole world

By shooting down federal-level environmental regulations, the court undermines Washington’s global reliability
The US Supreme Court’s carbon emissions decision impacts the whole world

The US Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings that seriously upset the rule of law in America. Most notably, the court stripped women’s rights to abortion at the federal level. Other rulings on issues such as gun control and secularism have curtailed the country’s forward progress. 

All of these are seriously damaging to US civil society. But another recent ruling by the Supreme Court on climate change will impact the world. On June 30, the court ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the authority to broadly limit carbon emissions for existing power plants. This is a major blow in the global fight against climate change and will challenge administrative power in the US in the future, affecting issues such as food safety and workers’ rights. 

The justification of this decision, written under an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, is that the public and its representatives should have the final say over administrative power. Roberts said that capping carbon emissions to the point of forcing a national transition from coal may be “sensible,” but that “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,” he wrote.

What’s most surprising about the Supreme Court even taking this case to begin with is that there is no current EPA nationwide regulation on the books. Central to the legal battle was an interpretation of the 1963 Clean Air Act, which had only been interpreted to introduce statewide regulations at its height under the administration of former President Barack Obama, and then narrowed to individual plants under the administration of former President Donald Trump. 

That is to say that the court issued a decision on a hypothetical EPA regulation, one that had been under discussion by President Joe Biden and his team, which is a serious break from the court’s tradition prior to this case. 

The Supreme Court typically only chooses to issue decisions on existing matters, leaving political discussions and hypothetical scenarios to Congress. This ruling now strips administrative power from the other branches of government, subverting executive administrative power and the legislature’s mandate issued under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. As mentioned before, this now has implications for all federal regulatory agencies, like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

This should be absolutely terrifying for the US and its citizens. It will usher in an environmental disaster for many communities, particularly those of color. It will undoubtedly open the door for the degradation of food safety standards, worker safety regulations, and personal data protection. The damage this can deal to average people is essentially limitless. 

On the specific issue at hand, it seriously raises the question of how the US can be considered a reliable partner in the international fight against climate change if its government essentially has no power to cap emissions. Indeed, the US has already lagged far behind comparable countries in terms of implementing relevant regulations or transitioning to a green economy – but this is a nightmare scenario. 

For example, the current administration of President Joe Biden has used climate change as a central fixture of its diplomatic discussions with countries around the world. This is understandable because it is probably the most consequential issue of our time, at least to every single country besides the US. How can the US government be considered a relevant player now after this Supreme Court decision? 

Note that this is not the first time something like this has happened. Washington diplomats were seriously undermined after Congress failed to pass the Biden climate agenda. Now the last remaining branch of the US government has shot down a bare-minimum climate policy. 

This is extraordinarily embarrassing for the US as a global leader and underscores the need for democratized global leadership. As one of the leaders in global emissions, the US has a duty to the planet to curb emissions. The court’s decision will be felt around the world – not just in Washington. There must be consequences for such irresponsible and foolhardy governance, which is why the global community must act independently of Washington on the issue of climate.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.