Environmental groups are calling on the US Congress to take action after a US Supreme Court restricting the ability to enforce carbon pollution pollution struck a blow in the fight against climate change.
West Virginia’s stance against the Environmental Protection Agency was a victory for Georgia and 18 other Republican-run states because it narrows Democratic President Joe Biden’s ability to prosecute its climate goals.
Environmentalists fear unchecked environmental policies could significantly delay the US’ ability to reduce carbon pollution, while scientists urge immediate action to curb emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change. They also called for the passage of legislative packages that would put billions of dollars into clean energy.
But while the president and the country’s environmental organization are sounding the alarm, some experts say the ruling is unlikely to hamper progress in Georgia in closing polluting coal-fired power plants and switching to cleaner forms of energy.
By a six-to-three vote, the conservative justices who make up the court’s majority ruled Thursday that Congress only authorizes the EPA to strictly regulate emissions from individual power plants, rather than imposing broad industry-wide caps on emissions from coal and gas power.
Because of this decision, it is imperative that new federal standards for coal, gas and power plant carbon emissions are established, Sidd Daviddoniger, Senior Strategic Director f The dfycounclecocounclecoucclouccle.
“We believe the Biden administration went in that direction anyway,” Doniger said. “It’s time they reported with a standard based on the type of controls, the type of technology that can be applied to coal-fired power plants and the reductions that can be achieved.”
The ruling is likely to have greater repercussions in states other than Georgia, including West Virginia, where coal mining is a powerful economic and political force.
Thursday’s ruling invalidated a Washington, DC Circuit’s decision that the Trump administration based its repeal of the Clean Power Plan on a misreading of the Clean Air Act.
“The best thing would be if we just introduced some kind of carbon tax or some kind of explicit carbon caps,” said Tim Lieuwen, executive director of the Strategic Energy Institute at Georgia Tech.
“In the absence of those, the EPA needs to try to figure out all these other indirect avenues,” he said. The best way for us to handle this is through legislation. It’s just a matter for the executive to figure out what to do.”
In Georgia, various environmental groups have called on Georgia Power to accelerate its plans to shut down its coal-fired power plants and have fought a long-running battle over the company’s plans to store coal ash in ponds at its power plants, with a state-licensing process.
Earlier this year, Georgia Power, the state’s largest utility, announced plans to do so shut down the last of its coal-fired power plants over the next decadeincluding 12 coal blocks by 2028, which will be offset by increased natural gas production and will soon support the system’s renewable energy capacity.
A Georgia Power spokesman said Thursday that the company is still reviewing the court’s decision.
The nonprofit Environment, Georgia said the court ruling also puts more pressure on state and local governments to reduce pollution because Georgia has three of the country’s 100 most polluting power plants.
“The Supreme Court has just made the monumental task of cleaning our air and reducing climate-warming pollution much, much harder,” said Director Jennette Gayer. “Georgians count on the EPA to protect our air and environment. Now that the Court has moved even further away from a stable climate, state and local politicians must look for other ways to reduce emissions and ensure a clean and healthy future.”
Georgia Power said in January it would continue to work to ensure coal ash ponds are safely closed after the EPA announced plans to crack down on hazardous coal ash dumps as the agency sought to prevent toxins from leaching into groundwater.
Georgia Power is well advanced with its plans to shut down coal-fired power plants in favor of cleaner, renewable energy sources, despite the outcome of Thursday’s ruling, Lieuwen .
Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Co., is aim for net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
“Georgia Power, and even just the Southeast in general, is really doubling down on nuclear natural gas and solar power,” Lieuwen said. “There are many economic reasons for this, so I don’t see any influence on this decision.
“I think the question isn’t so much whether this will slow down their plans,” Lieuwen said. “I think the question is, will there be any additional action by Congress that could result in the transition being accelerated ahead of that 2050 goal?”
GET THE TOMORROW HEADLINES IN YOUR INBOX
In the meantime, Georgia’s most extensive project – the nuclear expansion of the Vogle plant – has been this late and over budget for many years could be completed in 2023. Lieuwen said nuclear power will give a big boost to renewable energy once it’s connected to the grid.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr signed a brief for the Supreme Court case asking judges to limit federal powers over environmental regulations.
“Today, SCOTUS ruled that President Biden’s EPA does not have the authority to regulate the nation’s entire energy grid,” Carr tweeted Thursday.
“This attempt at federal power would have destroyed jobs and increased electricity prices, and we are proud to have joined (West Virginia) in this fight.”
Judgment is imminent Biden’s goalcodified in an executive order in December 2021 to achieve a zero-carbon power sector by 2035, Emily Schiller, an attorney who heads Holland & Hart’s environmental resources practice group and represents power producers who have challenged the rule, said Thursday.
WhentheCleanAirActwas passed by Congress, it provided the EPA with a way to address harmful pollutants that cause poor air quality, such as and other sources of pollution.
“What’s happening now is we have this problem of climate change, which isn’t due to pollutants giving you health and respiratory problems, it’s causing our planet to warm up and glaciers to melt,” Lieuwen said. “And frankly, our Congress doesn’t seem to be able to find a way to pass legislation to limit carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.”
Vickie Patton, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the decisions could relate only to power plants, but also put a stronger emphasis on further tackling pollution from car and truck tailpipes.
“The EPA continues to have an urgent responsibility to address the hazardous methane released from oil and gas industry activities across our country,” she said.
The South has most to lose from unabated climate change and most to gain from an economy based on “clean” energy, said Frank Rambo, senior attorney and director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s clean energy and air program.
“Today’s verdict means the same for Georgia as it does for the whole country – a weakened legal framework and fewer tools to reduce carbon emissions at the national level,” Rambo said. “It is all the more important that government agencies and utility regulators recognize the immense value and opportunities that are available here and now to leverage cost-effective clean energy options, especially as customer demand for renewable energy continues to grow.”