The United States Supreme Court just ruled… no, not that. It just ruled that the US executive branch, specifically its Environmental Protection Agency, had exceeded its authority in issuing what the New York Times “Climate Forward” called “broad, aggressive regulations on climate-warming pollution from power plants that would force many of those plants to close.” Nature magazine, which you can be forgiven for having thought was just a science journal, went mental, hollering “US Supreme Court hobbles the EPA’s authority over climate emissions/ Legal ruling limits the environmental agency’s regulatory powers, hamstringing Biden’s climate plan.” Except the point of the ruling was that the EPA has no authority or powers other than what Congress has delegated to it, and thus far the peoples’ houses have not authorized it to control greenhouse gases. But if, as critics of the ruling lament, there is broad popular support for such measures then it will be simple for Congress or state legislatures to impose them. So why the need for the EPA to bypass voters? And if there is no such support, how was it legitimate to impose them anyway?
The “Climate Forward” take on the ruling was “The climate math just got harder”. To which we retort that they were already manifestly incapable of doing that math anyway. They argue that “The failure of the United States – the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in history – to meet its climate targets would very likely mean the world will not be able to keep global warming at about 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels.” We must protest that “in history” is a disingenuous attempt to obscure the fact that China’s emissions are now more than double those of the United States and rising fast, and India, Russia and Japan together also exceed the U.S. total, so the math says what the U.S. does is not very important. (As for going back and making Grover Cleveland stop the industrial boom of the late 19th century, or preventing John D. Rockefeller from dramatically reducing the cost of refined petroleum products, well, the physics of time travel may not have gotten any harder but it certainly hasn’t gotten any easier.) But the main point is that “the math”, if by that you mean the computer simulations of the climate alarmists, already said if everyone met their Paris commitments it would make no difference you could measure by 2100 anyway. So it didn’t get harder, or less unappealing. (Doing one’s journalistic homework also didn’t get any harder, or any more common apparently.)
If those considerations aren’t enough, it also seems vaguely relevant that the emissions reduction plan in question, a holdover from the Obama Administration, wasn’t even being implemented, having been put on hold by the Supreme Court six years ago. The Biden administration actually tried to get the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that there were no regulations to challenge, though had the Court bought that feeble claim, then the branch of math known as probability suggests that the odds of such regulations appearing the next day were extremely high.
As the Washington Post noted with misplaced sympathy:
“Justice Elena Kagan, writing for herself and fellow liberal justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, countered that the majority had empowered the wrong people to pass judgment on an existential dilemma. ‘The Court appoints itself – instead of Congress or the expert agency – the decisionmaker on climate policy,’ Kagan wrote. ‘I cannot think of many things more frightening.’”
If that basis for a dissent does not represent the Court, or its liberal wing, attempting to appoint themselves “the decisionmaker on climate policy”, perhaps with the nation’s mainstream media as junior partners, it’s hard to imagine what would do so. What’s frightening is her ability to misrepresent a decision that actually said, not that the Court should decide climate policy, but merely that if Congress really wanted to give an agency the power in question it needed to do so more explicitly.
Nature joined in the lamentations over the court’s ruling “hamstringing Biden’s climate plan,” apparently not bothered by Biden not having a climate plan. And it undertook a careful survey of one side of the issue, predictably concluding that the real problem was that it would make it harder for agency staff to get creative with future regulatory agendas:
“Academics and environmentalists lamented the loss of authority, as well as the precedent that it could set for the EPA – and potentially for other US agencies trying to tackle important societal issues in innovative ways. ‘It’s a very dangerous decision,’ says Lisa Heinzerling, a legal expert at Georgetown University in Washington DC. ‘As an agency, if you are trying to tackle an important [new] question, and you’re trying to do it in a creative way, then this case should give you pause.’”
To which we retort that if you’re an agency trying to carry out a clear mandate from lawmakers the ruling creates no problems for you. Especially since the Nature item then conceded that:
“Capping carbon dioxide emissions to force a national shift away from coal towards cleaner energy sources might be a ‘sensible’ climate solution, the justices wrote in the majority decision – but it is ‘not plausible’ that the US Congress meant to grant such authority to the EPA when it wrote the Clean Air Act. ‘A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself.’”
To us it sounds like self-government. Nature begs to differ, saying “that spells bad news for the planet, because the United States is both one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world and a central player among the countries tackling global warming, says Sabrina McCormick, a sociologist who studies public health at the George Washington University in Washington DC.” And who better to pass judgement on climate policy?
NBC actually suffered an attack of sanity in the wake of the ruling, observing that “Climate lawyers said the ruling was narrower than the worst-case options they had feared and that it left legal openings for federal agencies to regulate carbon pollution using other parts of the law” including the EPA itself. Moreover, “The ruling will almost assuredly make U.S. climate goals more difficult to reach while shifting climate attention to the states, local governments and investors trying to capitalize on the falling costs of clean energy.” And it added “‘Our governors are fired up,’ said Casey Katims, the executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of state leaders who want to reduce emissions.” Well, we shall see just how fired up they are as energy prices fire up. But if it’s true, well, onward and downward.
As the Wall Street Journal put it, “The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal regulators exceeded their authority in seeking to limit emissions from coal plants in a decision that sharply curtails the executive branch’s authority to make policy actions on a range of issues without congressional direction.” But with such direction anything is possible.
Even Climate Home News, after a half-hearted effort to flip its wig about “another blow to president Joe Biden’s efforts to rebuild the US’ climate credibility”, allowed that “The court ruled that, while the EPA can regulate emissions from individual power plants, it cannot set standards to shift power from fossil fuel plants to cleaner sources. It could have been worse.” Yeah. Because we suspect the EPA won’t take long to regulate emissions from individual plants in such a way as to make them uneconomical. On that basis we feel that some enthusiasts for the ruling also overstated its impact.
The whole thing is a tizzy in a teacup in other ways too. The New York Times climate panic department, which now seems to encompass most of the paper, mostly blew on it as hard as possible. Their news department shrieked “Supreme Court Strips Federal Government of Crucial Tool to Control Pollution” that one “climate scientist said it felt like ‘a punch in the gut’”. And “The Morning” greeted the ruling with “Good morning. The Supreme Court seems unconcerned with climate change” then raved “The Supreme Court has made it harder for the country to fight the ravages of climate change” blah blah blah “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.” And if you can’t get enough of this stuff, they have a new “Subscriber-Only Newsletter” in which some guy obsessed with you-know-what will help those in the know “cope with complex issues like climate change, pandemics and the unknown”.
Oddly, “Climate Forward” spoke to another colleague “who covers energy and environmental policy from The Times’s Washington bureau” who rightly said, “The ruling does not eliminate the E.P.A.’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But it sharply restricts it.” And of course experts say: “This decision means that the E.P.A. can’t do the kind of sweeping, transformational policy that climate experts say is necessary to reduce greenhouse emissions.” But Congress can. Including by a legislative amendment to the relevant statute, the Clean Air Act of 1970, clarifying that it wishes to empower the EPA to do so. So what’s the problem? Well, those stinking voters or something.