Seven years ago, President Barack Obama tried, and failed, to get Congress to pass the Clean Power Plan. The proposal included regulations that would have shut down coal-fired power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama then took an alternate route. His administration’s EPA pushed ahead with the regulations, claiming that a little-used section of the Clean Air Act empowered the agency to act by executive fiat.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey challenged the rule. Years of litigation and policy changes from different administrations followed. But now there is a resolution.
Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court in a six-three decision ruled in favor of West Virginia. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion saying the EPA exceeded its authority.
“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible solution to the crisis of the day,” he wrote. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave the EPA the authority to adopt its own regulatory scheme.”
And there it is.
This decision is not about whether the climate is changing—it is. It’s not about whether coal-fired power plants are significant producers of greenhouse gasses—they are. No, this ruling is a check on a proposed dramatic expansion of the power of an unelected agency to indelibly alter energy production in this country.
If the United States wants to go in that direction, then it is the responsibility of the people’s representatives to either make that decision or specifically empower the EPA to take the action.
“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself,” Roberts wrote, “or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”
Closer to home, the ruling is a significant win for West Virginia and the state’s energy economy. The coal industry is no longer the economic powerhouse that it was for decades in West Virginia, but it is still an important source of jobs and tax revenue.
Increased domestic and global demand for coal—both thermal and metallurgical—has pushed prices to record levels. Severance tax collections for the fiscal year that just ended are up over 200 percent from last year and surging past the projected estimate of $330 million.
But back to the beginning.
This protracted legal battle occurred because the elected Congress would not agree to a plan proposed by the President. Routing the regulation through the EPA was a back-door move from the very beginning.
The Biden administration and supporters of stricter limits on carbon emissions need to return to the drawing board, come up with a plan that is less punitive to a particular industry and then sell the public on its benefits.