US Supreme Court agrees to review EPA’s authority in West Virginia-led challenge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday granted a review of a federal appellate court decision regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate air emissions.

Petitioners — led by West Virginia — asked the court to consider a verdict from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in which judges struck down a Trump administration policy providing states with more flexibility to cut carbon dioxide emissions compared to an earlier rule.

“This is a tremendous victory for West Virginia and our nation,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Friday in a statement. “We are extremely grateful for the Supreme Court’s willingness to hear our case. It indicates a significant portion of the court realizes the seriousness of this case and shares our concern that the D.C. Circuit granted EPA too much authority.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The three-judge panel in January ruled against the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, the Trump administration’s rule establishing guidelines for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The judges said the Trump administration misinterpreted the Clean Air Act and national air quality standards when drafting the regulation.

The Affordable Clean Energy Rule replaced the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a broader approach addressing climate change and emissions. The Supreme Court blocked the rule amid legal questions, and the EPA eventually repealed the Clean Power Plan in 2019.

West Virginia, 19 other Republican-led states and coal mining companies argue Congress did not grant broad authority to the EPA under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions. They stated in an April briefing that extensive oversight could cause “dramatic changes in how and where electricity is produced” as well as affect other “stationary sources” emitting greenhouse gas.

“Power to regulate factories, hospitals, hotels, and even homes would have tremendous costs and consequences for all Americans,” the petitioners argued. “EPA’s steps on remand and every regulation under the statute to follow will be shaped by this new and wildly expansive authority.”

The EPA and multiple states argued against a review; the parties said because the EPA repealed the Clean Power Plan and the court rejected the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, the Supreme Court cannot review the agency’s authority until the approval of a new plan.

“Petitioners urge this Court to grant review now to help guide the upcoming rulemaking, but that is little more than a request for an impermissible advisory opinion,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in August.

The review comes amid the Biden administration’s efforts focused on climate change; President Joe Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline on his first day in office, and his administration has issued policies to boost clean energy production and reduce fossil fuel use.

“Given the insurmountable costs of President Biden’s proposals, our team is eager to present West Virginia’s case as to why the Supreme Court should define the reach of EPA’s authority once and for all,” Morrisey said.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. — the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — applauded the Supreme Court’s decision, calling the court’s ability to review the agency’s authority crucial in preventing agencies from being too powerful.

“This is an important case to demonstrate that elected representatives, not administrative agencies, are responsible for making our nation’s laws,” she added. “I commend the justices for agreeing to take this important case and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for bringing this matter to our nation’s highest court.”

The president’s $1.75 trillion domestic policy framework includes provisions addressing climate change, but the plan’s scope was trimmed following opposition from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and other Democrats.

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