Supreme Court Leaves States and Cities to Combat Climate Change

Supreme Court Leaves States and Cities to Combat Climate Change

The Supreme Court’s landmark EPA v. West Virginia decision cast a blow against the federal regulatory agencie’s ability to combat climate change. How serious the damage will be remains to be seen, and will be tested in the courts when the Biden Administration announces its next regulatory actions. But, just as the balance of climate action swung towards the cities and states during the Trump years, everyone is now watching to see whether and how states step up to fill the interim gaps. Even weeks before the decision, some states started to move. Arizona, for example, dedicated $1 billion towards fighting the Western megadrought, while California passed landmark legislation to eliminate plastic pollution.

PBS: Supreme Court curbs EPA’s power on emissions, June 30, 2022.

MSNBC: The Fallout From Supreme Court's Ruling On EPA, July 1, 2022.

PBS: Supreme Court’s EPA ruling raises climate change concerns, July 5, 2022.

Why This Matters

President Biden’s climate agenda remains the country’s best shot at achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the benchmark scientists say is necessary to prevent climate change’s worst impacts. Last year, Senator Joe Manchin killed the initial Build Back Better package in the Senate, and is now negotiating with Leader Schumer and the White House on a more narrow but climate-heavy version.

But, regardless of what Washington DC does, cities and states are on the front lines of climate impacts -- and have unlimited authority to govern locally in response them. The tides in some corners of the country have started to turn, as residents are forced to confront the impact of climate change. In Utah, Republican lawmakers unanimously allocated $40 million last spring to restore the drought-stricken Great Salt Lake, which could cause a climate catastrophe for city residents if it were to dry up.

CBS: What does Supreme Court's EPA decision mean for efforts to curb climate change?, July 1, 2022.

CNBC: Why Air Quality In The US Is So Bad, April 22, 2021.

MSNBC: Politicized Supreme Court Guts Clean Air Act; Environmental Activists Hope For Backlash, July 1, 2022.

The Morris Model

In other towns, the climate is hardly part of the conversation, even as residents take steps towards carbon neutrality. That’s the case in Morris, Minnesota, where local businesses are increasingly powered by solar panels and offer electric vehicle charging stations to reduce the town’s energy consumption by 30% by 2030. To the city manager, this was not about warming temperatures. "We have never focused on climate as being the thing to talk about, because you don’t have to,” he told the New York Times. You can go around and just start working on stuff.”

Samuel Yuan: Solar in Morris Minnesota, October 31, 2018.

Clean Energy Economy Minnesota: 2022 Minnesota Energy Factsheet, April 25, 2022.

MSNBC: The Future Of America With A Conservative Supreme Court, July 3, 2022.

PBS: What the Supreme Court’s monumental rulings tell us about the new conservative majority, July 4, 2022.