December 5, 2023

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled by 6-3 in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot force coal-fired power plants (via the Clean Energy Plan) to switch to renewables. This is the reversal of the 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency When the Supreme Court found carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate it.

Given that electricity generation is major shareholder (either directly or by electrifying the auto industry) to US carbon emissions, has the court primarily undertaken climate change mitigation efforts in the US? Without federal carbon regulations, how can the United States remove carbon quickly and how can the climate movement support such efforts?

Crises provide opportunities because they force actors to rethink goals and tactics. Below we explain how the climate movement can transform West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency Governance is a political opportunity.

Why is this a crisis?

Multiple vetoes in the policy-making process leave the US federal government behind on climate. At a minimum, new federal legislation requires the approval of 3 actors: the House of Representatives, at least 60 senators, and the president. Increasingly, this is a rare event in environmental policy: recent exceptions include HFC Legislation (which ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol) and The Great American Outdoors Act.

Federal legislative failure spurs pro-climate presidents to use climate policy by the EPA. But this requires that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to set such rules. When authority is vague or unclear, courts may still allow the EPA to move forward, according to respect chevron doctrine. The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate major air pollutants, with carbon dioxide not specifically listed as a pollutant. in 2007 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection AgencyThe Supreme Court has decided that the EPA can regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act but in 2022 West Virginia v. Environmental Protection AgencyThe Supreme Court decided otherwise.

What is the lesson? West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency Carbon emissions regulation is not prohibited. The EPA can do this if Congress amends the Clean Air Act and explicitly gives it the authority. This may be a way forward, but it will require a pro-climate majority in the House and Senate.

The court’s decision came at a time when climate policy is faltering. The global supply chain crisis and the invasion of Ukraine caused a spike in gas prices. Politicians around the world are backing away from their climate stances. Rather than support carbon pricing, they want the gas tax to be suspended. Governments want companies to restart coal plants (including climate leaders like Germany) and drill new oil and gas wells at home and abroad (much for theKeep it in the groundControversy). Moreover, governments are supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure consisting of pipelines, LNG terminals and large tankers to move natural gas across oceans. As infrastructure is expensive and has an economic life of several decades, the world is closing in even deeper in the fossil fuel economy. West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency can be considered Part of a broader retreat from decarbonization.

Could this be an opportunity?

Crises upset the status quo and open up what the political scientist John Kingdon called policy windows, which allow political entrepreneurs to match solutions to policy problems.

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency It could be an opportunity for climate activists to rethink their political strategy. They can use it to reaffirm the popular mandate to regulate carbon, thus countering criticism that climate policy is elitist. Opinion polls indicate growing public support for climate action and public concern about bifurcations of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. And popular support is not linked to the results of the elections. In the 2020 congressional elections, Voters are rewarded Members of the House of Representatives who supported the Green New Deal.

Why not turn the 2022 midterm elections into an actual climate referendum? The climate movement could argue that a pro-climate Congress is needed to amend the Clean Air Act so that the EPA can regulate carbon emissions. This requires that the climate movement be prepared and have the strength to put climate at the top of the liberal agenda. However, the country faces several crises, which makes the liberal agenda expansionist, and thus loses its focus on the climate. Perhaps now is the time for pro-climate leaders to speak up and Individually focus on carbon regulation.

Scientists note that between 2005 and 2015, US carbon emissions from the electricity sector declined. They are debating whether this drop is due to Financial Crisis 2007-09reducing electricity demand, or fracking, increasing gas supply, thereby stimulating power plants to switch From coal to cheaper natural gas. Importantly, this decline occurred in the absence of federal carbon regulations. Could carbon regulations speed up emissions declines? there some work This indicates that the country-wide renewable energy portfolio standards have reduced emissions.

In addition to the federal carbon regulation, how can a shift from fossil fuels to renewables be supported? The challenge is to get right price and creating a supportive political environment. For example, can the Biden administration be persuaded permanently withdraw Tariffs on solar panels given the lack of domestic manufacturing capacity in the US?

There is another emerging political challenge for renewables. Many rural areas of the United States counties They issued decrees restricting solar and wind farms. without utility scale Application, the advantage of solar and wind energy prices over fossil fuels will be diminished. However, it is not clear whether the climate movement has a political strategy to address rural dissent. We have checked the websites of The 10 largest environmental nonprofits in the United States And I didn’t even find a prominent one talking about this subject.

Nuclear energy and carbon sequestration

The climate movement views renewables as the mainstay of decarbonization. Can it reassess its opposition (or lukewarm support) to nuclear power? Germany is ready to restart coal, not nuclear plants. California is a little more flexible. have temporarily reverse plan To shut down the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant (which will always be replaced by natural gas). But nuclear power should not be seen as a short-term fix, hopefully West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency provides the opportunity to Climate movement to rethink the nuclear question.

Finally, careful attention must be paid to carbon sequestration. The reality is that countries will slow down the decarbonization process if they face a backlash due to inflation, blackouts or recession. Carbon sequestration may now be a necessary part of the policy package if net zero is to be achieved by 2050.

Briefly, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency It should galvanize the climate movement to secure a popular mandate for federal carbon regulations and ensure that local, state, and federal policy contexts continue to support utility-scale solar and wind energy. Moreover, it should reconsider nuclear power and carbon sequestration, along with having an open mind about new possibilities such as fusion and hydrogen. The coming months will reveal whether the movement will be frozen in the latest Supreme Court ruling or used to push for a new decarbonization strategy.

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