U.S. Supreme Court Limits EPA’s Authority to Combat Climate Change

The U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court. Anthony Quintano via Flickr

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday to severely restrict the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit carbon emissions.

In West Virginia v. EPA, the court’s conservative majority determined that, lacking a clear directive from Congress, the EPA cannot regulate carbon emissions from the power sector, only from individual power plants. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

The court’s three liberals dissented, with Justice Elena Kagan stating that the majority had overreached. “The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decision-maker on climate policy,” she wrote. “Whatever else this court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change.”

The ruling will severely limit the Biden administration’s ability to curb carbon pollution from power plants, a challenge to its goal of transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. That goal is part of its broader aim of slashing U.S. emissions in half by 2030 and rallying other nations to make similarly deep cuts.

Harvard environmental law professor Richard Lazarus said in statement that, by insisting on “‘clear congressional authorization’ at a time when the court knows that Congress is effectively dysfunctional, the court threatens to upend the national government’s ability to safeguard the public health and welfare at the very moment when the United States, and all nations, are facing our greatest environmental challenge of all: climate change.”


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