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U.S. Supreme Court says EPA does not have authority to force transition from coal

GILLETTE, Wyo. — The U.S. Supreme Court decided Thursday that Congress didn’t give the EPA the authority through the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants through setting limits and forcing power plants to move toward renewable energy.

The majority’s opinion in the 6-3 decision on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency found that because of the major questions doctrine, the EPA would only have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions if Congress had clearly given it that power.

Power companies and more than a dozen other states, including Wyoming, joined West Virginia in challenging a lower court’s ruling, which they said gave the EPA too much power.

Justices Samuel Alito Jr., Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., in the majority opinion.

“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.’ … But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d). A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, in which Alito joined. Justice Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion with justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement Thursday that the Supreme Court’s decision is “a clean win for Wyoming.”

“Wyoming joined this lawsuit to protect Wyoming’s coal-fired plants from federal overreach intent only on curtailing coal-fired electric generation,” he said. “Today’s decision recognizes that innovation, not regulation, is a key to a prosperous future and a healthier environment. The legal authority to regulate emissions properly lies with Congress and the states, not an overzealous federal bureaucracy insulated from practical accountability.”

Gordon said ensuring clean air and water is a statewide priority.

“Wyoming seeks to address pollution and climate change at its source by fostering improved technology and better management,” he said. “We believe that an all-of-the-above energy strategy that encourages free enterprise to solve our most pressing issues is the best road to a brighter future, a healthier environment, better jobs, and more sustainable communities.”

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which had supported the states’ petition for a writ of certiorari, said in a statement it posted on Facebook Thursday that it supports the Supreme Court’s opinion.

“The regulations proposed nearly a decade ago would have fundamentally altered the manner in which electricity is generated in the United States, forcing Basin Electric and other utilities to prematurely retire fossil fuel-based generation, imposing significant costs on ratepayers and detrimentally impacting reliability,” the cooperative said. “Basin Electric has long been a leader in reducing emissions from electric generation and will continue to operate its generation facilities in a responsible manner.”

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement that the court’s ruling is “disheartening” when climate crisis impacts are costing billions of dollars and jeopardizing millions of Americans’ safety. He said the EPA retains its commitment to public health.

“While I am deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, we are committed to using the full scope of EPA’s authorities to protect communities and reduce the pollution that is driving climate change,” he said. “We will move forward to provide certainty and transparency for the energy sector, which will support the industry’s ongoing efforts to grow our clean energy economy. … Ambitious climate action presents a singular opportunity to ensure U.S. global competitiveness, create jobs, lower costs for families, and protect people’s health and wellbeing, especially those who’ve long suffered the burden of inaction.”