On June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rendered a decision that thoroughly undermines the authority of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to advance common sense regulations that could limit climate changing emissions to a meaningful degree. In so doing, the West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency decision has most certainly sentenced communities across our nation and future generations to the growing devastations of unchecked climate change.
Notably, this was a case the court didn’t have to take on. The federal government had made clear it had no intention of implementing the regulatory regime the court was evaluating. The case could have been dismissed as moot or for lack of a challenger who would be impacted and could therefore fulfill the requirements of legal standing.
Once taken up, the Supreme Court Justices should have, followed a 1984 precedent mandating courts show deference to the regulatory agency charged by Congress to implement a law. Instead, the court decided to substitute the judgment of six activist justices for that of the EPA.
Relying on a wonky legal doctrine, the court created a new test limiting the ability of EPA to address climate changing emissions unless it can point to “clear congressional authorization” allowing it to do so. Given the current political dynamic, it is unlikely we will see the explicit legislation needed to meet this test. Today the decision addressed the authority of the US EPA, but it is sure to be cited by the fossil fuel industry to challenge other federal agencies seeking to address the growing climate crisis.
States need to sit up and take notice of this decision if they care about protecting our environment. In Pennsylvania that means fully utilizing our state Green Amendment (article 1 section 27 of the state Constitution) for climate protection, and to stop kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry wreaking devastating harm on Pennsylvania communities.
Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper a founder of Green Amendments for the Generations.