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Climate-change action remains top priority

EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT

By: Frances Lamberts

The string of recent, major rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court contained one which enjoined the Environmental Protection Agency from addressing climate change through regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The decision ended a now nearly seven-year legal challenge by coal-industry trade groups, corporations and 29 states to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Electric power plants then being the largest source of climate-warming emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency had issued regulations in 2015 requiring specific targets from the states to cut these emissions by a third, by 2030. States could determine how best to meet the targets, such as through plant-level changes toward greater efficiency, reducing emissions across the state
by shifting power plants
from coal to natural gas, or statewide shifts in transitioning fossil fuels to renew- able energy, combined with demand response and other energy-efficiency or cap-and- trade measures.

The Plan granted a generous compliance time frame, 2022 being the first deadline for emissions reductions and full compliance required by 2030.

Yet, the Plan being brand- ed as too burdensome and a “power grab by the EPA,” it never became law. In 2016, the Supreme Courted issued a stay, temporarily suspending its implementation. Eighteen other states, citing continuing climate-change harms from increased flooding, wildfires, droughts and storms, had opposed the stay. Then, in its many rollbacks of environmental-protection rules, the Trump administration repealed the Clean Power Plan, replacing it with an Af- fordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule. Analyses of this Rule, such as by the Brookings Institution, found that it would have reduced the net carbon emissions by one percent, if at all. Due to a suit by the American Lung Association and other health-concerned groups, a U.S. Appeals Court vacated the ACE Rule in 2021.

The appointment of three new, conservative justices under President Trump resulted in the latest ruling, “sharply curtailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions” as a Forbes writer states. It did not, however, overturn EPA’s authority to regulate these under the Clean Air Act, affirmed by a Supreme Court ruling under President Bush, in 2007.

And the Obama Clean Power Plan targets were essentially met by now, anyway, Forbes indicates, since many states voluntarily complied. Economic reasons, including lower natural gas prices and dramatically lower costs of building wind and solar farms had driven these states’ decisions.

The recent heat waves alone are a painful reminder that strong greenhouse gas emissions reduction is urgent- ly needed, still. Since 1980, climate scientists report, the planet has experienced a fiftyfold increase in the number of dangerous heat waves. Let us hope that the EPA’s new effort at emissions regulation, under President Biden, will meet with better success.