The Supreme Court has made it harder for the country to fight the ravages of climate change.
In a 6-to-3 decision yesterday, the court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to prevent power plants from releasing climate-warming pollution. The court ruled that Congress had not given the agency the authority to issue the broad regulations that many climate experts believe could make a major difference — the kind of regulations that many Biden administration officials would have liked to implement.
Today’s newsletter will walk you through what the decision means — and also clarify what it does not mean (because some of the early commentary exaggerated the decision’s meaning). The bottom line is that the ruling is significant, but it does not eliminate the Biden administration’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Amy Westervelt, a climate journalist, summarized the decision by writing: “Not good, but also not as bad as it could have been. It’s pretty narrow.” Romany Webb of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University called the ruling “a blow, but it is nowhere near the worst-case scenario.”
The trouble, many scientists say, is that climate change presents such an enormous threat to the world — and the need to reduce the pace of warming is so urgent — that any ruling that makes the task harder is worrisome. Extreme storms, heat waves, droughts and wildfires are already becoming more common. Some species are facing potential extinction. Glaciers are melting, and sea levels are rising.
Yet the U.S. has made only modest progress combating climate change through federal policy in recent years. The Trump administration largely denied the problem and reversed Obama administration policies intended to slow global warming. The Biden administration has failed to pass its ambitious climate agenda because of uniform Republican opposition and Democratic infighting. Now the Supreme Court has made the job more difficult, too.
What’s still possible
The Biden administration had hoped to issue a major rule requiring electric utilities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, essentially forcing them to replace coal and gas-fired plants with clean forms of electricity, like wind, solar and nuclear. The justices ruled that when Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, it did not intend to give the E.P.A. such broad authority.
The E.P.A. can still regulate power plants after the ruling, but more narrowly than before: The agency can push power plants to become more efficient, for example. “The way to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions from power plants is to shut down the power plants — and replace them with something cleaner,” my colleague Coral Davenport said. “And that’s off the table.”
After yesterday, the E.P.A.’s most significant policy tools appear to involve other industries. The agency can still regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles, the nation’s largest source of such emissions — although the ruling and the potential for future lawsuits may make the agency more cautious than it otherwise would be.
On Twitter, Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University, listed other ways that government agencies could continue to address climate change, including: federal rules applying to newly built power plants; federal rules on leakage from oil and gas production; state and local rules in many areas; and private sector efforts to become more energy efficient, often subsidized by the government.
“One battle is lost (unsurprisingly, given this Supreme Court),” Gerrard wrote, “but the war against climate change very much goes on.”
More on the climate
The ruling is the latest sign that the Republican Party is unconcerned about climate change. The six justices in the majority were all Republican appointees; the three dissenters were all Democratic appointees.
Adam Liptak, The Times’s Supreme Court correspondent, wrote: “Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, only glancingly alluded to the harms caused by climate change. Justice Elena Kagan began her dissent with a long passage detailing the devastation the planet faces, including hurricanes, floods, famines, coastal erosion, mass migration and political crises.”
The math just got harder. This decision made it less likely that the U.S. would reach the climate targets that Biden has set. And if the U.S. misses its targets, the world will likely miss its target, as The Times’s Climate Forward newsletter explains. (Sign up here.)
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Lives Lived: As the face of the Hells Angels, Sonny Barger turned the motorcycle club into a global phenomenon and an emblem of West Coast rebellion. He died at 83.
SPORTS NEWS FROM THE ATHLETIC
A programming note: This week, we are introducing a new section to this newsletter — a sports section, written by the staff of The Athletic.
An N.B.A. superstar wants out: Kevin Durant asked to be traded from the Brooklyn Nets yesterday, a fresh story line to pair with the league’s free agency period kicking off. Where could Durant land? Here are the possible trade destinations.
U.C.L.A. and U.S.C. sow chaos: Two Pac-12 mainstays are leaving for the Big Ten. It’s a move that shakes college football’s foundation. Is the sport now down to just two power conferences?
Marla Hooch can still rake: It’s been 30 years since she was launching home runs for the Rockford Peaches in “A League of Their Own.” Turns out the actress Megan Cavanagh, now 61, can still hit ’em.
The Athletic, a New York Times company, is a subscription publication that delivers in-depth, personalized sports coverage. Learn more about The Athletic.
Back for seconds
Maybe not all shows need second seasons — but many get one anyway. “The philosophy today is that if you can give people more of what they liked, then don’t waste time pondering whether you should,” the TV critic James Poniewozik writes.
“Only Murders in the Building,” which told a full story in its first season, returned this week. Other seemingly complete shows have also returned: “Big Little Lies,” “The Flight Attendant,” “Russian Doll.” The second season of “Only Murders” still delivers even if it lacks originality, James writes.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was enviable. Here is today’s puzzle.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Push (oneself) (five letters).
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Nice choice of reading material, Mr. President (from the G7 meeting in Germany):