A New Supreme Court Case Could Dictate the Future of Federal Regulation on Carbon Emissions

Supreme Court to hear new climate case

In West Virginia v. EPA, the US Supreme Court is currently reviewing the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs). In 2017, the Trump Administration repealed the Clean Power Plan, a major Obama-era carbon emissions rule limiting the amount of CO2 released by power plants, and replaced it with the less restrictive Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule. But shortly after, a federal court vacated the ACE Rule.

Still, fossil fuel companies won't give up. North American Coal has continued to challenge the ruling, questioning the EPA's authority to broadly regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The coal company argues that although it recognizes the importance of addressing climate change, "[t]hose debates will not be resolved anytime soon." The company is alarmed by the vast number of "crucial decisions” that will be made by EPA employees they refer to as "unelected agency officials without statutory authority, as opposed to our elected legislators."

Why This Matters

Depending on the ruling, the case West Virginia v. EPA could either embolden the EPA to regulate carbon emissions or upend federal efforts to do so.

Those siding with the fossil fuel industry include America's Power, the National Mining Association, and other trade organizations. They have filed briefs in support, decrying "administrative overreach."

However, the EPA has some pretty powerful backers, particularly in the tech industry. Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla, Paypal, and Salesforce filed an amicus brief on Tuesday in support of the EPA. In total, fifteen high-profile tech companies signed it.

The tech companies make the case for both corporate and EPA regulation, adding that federal regulations create more certainty while stabilizing the economy.

Despite their support for the EPA, some signatories, including Amazon, Google, and Meta, have been called out for continuing to do business with fossil fuel companies.

What's Next

The Supreme Court is scheduled to start hearing arguments in West Virginia v. EPA in February. But stakeholders, including trade associations and tech companies, are making their opinions known early on.

What is certain is that whatever the Supreme Court decides will have major consequences for all parties involved, either reinforcing the federal government's power to regulate against GhG emissions or passing that control to Congress, where fossil fuel companies remain strong players.

Reuters: 2021 saw jump in greenhouse-gas emissions, says report, January 10, 2022.