Reviews | The planet is cooking. But what is the reality for this Supreme Court?

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Another day, another utterly disastrous decision by the far-right activist majority in the Supreme Court. This new ruling is causing even greater damage than the removal of women’s reproductive rights in this country. It potentially jeopardizes the future of every human being on Earth.

What the court did on Thursday essentially put a damper on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to fight climate change. You might think that an existential threat to the planet, already manifested by soaring temperatures and rising seas, would cause even this blind cadre of conservative judges to step back. You would be wrong.

In a 6-3 decision, the court sought to limit the EPA’s ability to meaningfully regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, under provisions of the decades-old Clean Air Act. I say the court did its best because no such settlement was even challenged in this case, West Virginia vs. EPA.

The Obama administration drafted a set of EPA rules governing power plants, called the Clean Power Plan, but the rules never took effect. The Trump administration canceled President Barack Obama’s program and issued its own, much weaker rules. But these never took effect either. And because the Biden administration has yet to release promised emissions rules for power plants, the Supreme Court had nothing concrete to decide.

What do you think of this mandate from the Supreme Court? Our columnists answer your questions.

State of West Virginia and several mining companies sued to stop President Biden’s EPA from imposing rules that he had no intention of trying to impose. Why would the nation’s highest court seize on such a flimsy pretext to sharply curtail the power of the EPA — and, by extension, perhaps other federal agencies? Because it is an article of faith in the far-right legal community – the hometown of the six-vote majority – that what conservatives call the “administrative state” has grown too big and too powerful and must be reduced to size.

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This is a purely ideological position, unrelated to how the federal government should be able to function in the real world. When Congress passes a law, it cannot state every step by which that law must be implemented or every circumstance in which it might be applied. The executive branch is responsible for enforcing the statutes written by Congress, and it does so through an extensive rule-making process that involves input from experts, stakeholders, and the public. Yes, this is all very bureaucratic. Try to meet the needs of a nation of 332 million without bureaucracy.

Supreme Court ruling on EPA upends Biden’s environmental agenda

But reality has little to no effect on the reckless jurisprudence of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote this majority opinion, and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch , Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Dissenting, as usual, were Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and – on the day of her retirement – Stephen G. Breyer. Going forward, Breyer’s replacement, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, will join Sotomayor and Kagan in trying to restore sanity in court.

Meanwhile, the planet is cooking itself alive.

Eugene Robinson: It’s not a court. It’s a junta.

The punitive impacts of climate change are all around us, evident to all, including a number of nine people who wear black robes in their large workplace on Capitol Hill. With the initial passage of the Clean Air Act in 1963, Congress gave the executive branch—the EPA had not yet been established—a broad mandate to regulate pollution. Judge Antonin Scalia once claimed in a dissenting opinion – incorrectly – that there is “deep” scientific uncertainty about whether greenhouse gases cause global warming. There was extremely little uncertainty then, and there is none today.

China, India, Brazil and other wealthy countries in Europe and Asia must reduce their emissions if we are to avoid the most apocalyptic warming scenarios. But the United States, as the world’s leading economic and military power — and as a major producer of fossil fuels — must boldly lead by example if it expects the rest of the world to follow.

Eugene Robinson: Ignoring climate change hasn’t made it go away

One day, I hope, our political system will once again be functional enough for a future Congress and a future President to agree on far-reaching measures to make a rapid transition to clean energy sources. By then, however, it may be too late.

Nothing forced the Supreme Court to rule against a set of climate change regulations that had already become moot. Nothing but the self-righteous impatience of the ultra-conservative majority to show its muscles. Responsible political leaders must assert themselves before this uncontrollable tribunal causes irreparable harm. For the planet, there is no plan B.


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