U.S. Supreme Court justices debated putting new limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to tackle greenhouse-gas emissions, as they considered a case that threatens to undercut President
Hearing two hours of arguments in Washington, the justices gave a mixed reception to Republican-led states and coal companies seeking to bar the EPA from issuing a sweeping plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. The Biden administration is defending the agency’s authority, with backing from power companies and environmental groups.
“I really don’t see what the concrete limitations are in any of what you said,” he told U.S. Solicitor General
“I don’t know how you can draw such clean distinctions,” Thomas said.
The session was relatively low-key given the stakes involved. One of the court’s conservatives, Justice
The case could jeopardize the country’s ability to meet Biden’s pledge to at least halve greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade. It’s impossible to hit that target without regulations to stifle greenhouse gases from oil wells, automobiles and power plants, as well as tax incentives designed to spur clean energy that can edge out fossil fuels, according to several analyses.
The argument came hours after the release of a United Nations panel
The companies and states are asking the court to preemptively bar anything resembling former President
The case centers on a Clean Air Act provision requiring the EPA to identify the “best system of emission reduction” for existing pollution sources. The law then tasks states to implement plans that reflect those findings.
The justices devoted much of the session to the so-called major questions doctrine, which the court in past cases has said requires Congress to provide clear authorization before an agency exercises broad powers. The court relied on that doctrine when it lifted the Biden administration’s moratorium on evictions during the pandemic and blocked plans to require vaccines or regular tests for 84 million workers.
Barrett drew a contrast with the eviction moratorium ruling, which rested in part on the court’s assessment that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reaching beyond its core area of authority.
“Here, if we’re thinking about EPA regulating greenhouse gases, well, there’s a match between the regulation and the agency’s wheelhouse, right?” Barrett asked.
The dispute could be a key one for the movement to rein in the so-called administrative state. Legal conservatives say unaccountable regulators are usurping a role the Constitution entrusts to Congress.
The cases are West Virginia v. EPA, 20-1530; North American Coal Co. v. EPA, 20-1531; Westmoreland Mining Holdings v. EPA, 20-1778; and North Dakota v. EPA, 20-1780.
(Updates with comments from Kagan, Barrett starting in 13th paragraph.)
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