Setbacks and Opportunities

Jared Opsal

By Jared Opsal

This summer the broad-based movement to take action to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants suffered a major setback in the Supreme Court case of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. The court’s 6-3 decision stated Congress did not grant the EPA, in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the authority to devise emissions caps based on the generation shifting approach the Agency took in the Clean Power Plan. The decision both undermines the EPA’s ability to take necessary action to decarbonize the US power sector and combat the climate crisis and potentially upend decades of precedent that allows a multitude of government agencies to promulgate rules on various everyday issues.

In short, federal agencies can not implement regulations with expansive social and economic impacts unless Congress passes legislation that explicitly gives them the power to do so. This is yet another political barrier to addressing climate change, especially when considering the number of bills passed by Congress have dropped drastically in the past 50 years. For instance, from 1973-1983 Congress passed 4,247 pieces of legislation that were enacted into law, but in the past 10 years Congress has only passed 1,586 bills (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/statistics). This trend leads us to believe there will continue to be less coming from Congress in the years to come.

Where does this leave us as a country and a state? At the national level, the EPA still has authority to limit emissions as a matter of public health under the Clean Air Act. Furthermore, we must continue supporting the environmental provisions that were included in the Inflation Reduction Act. At the state level, there is now an ever greater emphasis placed on the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to protect the public’s health and their environment. There is also an opportunity for the state legislature to focus on passing bills that will protect Missouri’s unique ecosystems, make us more resilient for climate change, and begin reversing the damage that has already taken place from the unfettered release of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere.

The importance of organizations working at the state level throughout the country, including here in Missouri, has never been more important. MCE has been watchdogging pollution permits, rules, and regulations from DNR and informing elected officials in the Missouri legislature about the environmental pros and cons of legislation they propose for over 50 years, and we will be here for many more educating, organizing, and advocating to ensure the people of Missouri, regardless of race, income, or geography, live in and demand a clean, safe, and protected environment, now and for generations to come.

This decision from the Supreme Court is a setback, but it is not the end of our journey to combat climate change.