The Supreme Court signaled that it may move to limit executive authority to issue climate directives in the absence of new legislation, The Guardian reports.
The court heard oral arguments Monday in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which focuses on the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases produced by the energy industry.
Harvard Law professor Richard Lazarus told Axios there seem to be six votes to "align" the case with recent rulings against the federal eviction moratorium and vaccine mandates.
That would cause the court to "sharply cut back on EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants," Lazarus said.
A question hanging in the balance is whether the court’s 6-3 conservative majority will set a precedent that broadly limits executive power to regulate without explicit congressional approval.
"While some warned this case could be a Waterloo for the administrative state, most of the oral argument focused narrowly on how to interpret the relevant provisions of the Clean Air Act," Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler said in an analysis posted Monday.
According to The Guardian, conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh, said that the court had previously shown “skepticism” about the government’s ability to regulate a "significant portion of the American economy.”
University of Maryland law professor Robert Percival told Axios that the government and the high court aren’t seeing eye to eye on whether there are grounds for the case.
"Chief Justice Roberts made it clear that he thinks the case is justiciable even though the government made a strong argument that any ruling would be only an advisory opinion," Percival said.
The case goes back to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would have required states to reduce emissions from the manufacture of electricity, primarily by shifting away from coal, according to The Guardian.
The plan never took effect, however, as West Virginia and other states filed suit in 2016 and the Supreme Court blocked it in a 5-4 ruling.
The EPA repealed the plan after Trump took office and crafted a new plan that significantly reduced the federal government’s role.
New York, the District of Columbia, 21 other states, and some of the nation’s largest cities subsequently sued and a federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan.
The case is playing out as the president’s climate spending plan has stalled in Congress, putting more pressure on federal agencies to act via regulation, Axios reports.
The court heard the case hours after United Nations-backed scientists issued a report that found that global warming is reshaping the world more quickly and severely than originally thought.
Environmental groups have reacted to the case with alarm, fearing it could derail any effort to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.
"It was grotesque to hear big coal’s lawyers argue for tying EPA’s hands on cutting climate-heating pollution, even as the world’s scientists warn of a bigger, worsening swath of human suffering," Jason Rylander, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity said, referring to the global warming report. "We’re out of time, and the president must act boldly now."
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