Law & Order

Supreme Court Restricts EPA's Authority to Regulate Power Plants

By SEMA Washington, D.C., Staff

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that Congress did not grant the EPA the authority to devise carbon emissions caps for power plants that would shift the way they generate energy away from coal. The case, West Virginia vs. EPA, is unusual in that it centers around the 2015 Clean Power Plan that never went into effect. The Obama administration plan was blocked in court and subsequent Trump administration plan struck down. The Biden administration has yet to release a new power sector regulation, and this decision impacts any such regulation as the EPA is no longer allowed to compel power plants to switch their energy generation from coal to natural gas, wind turbines, or solar energy.

This decision, while limiting how the EPA can use its authority to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, has no effect on current EPA regulation of aftermarket performance products or mobile source emissions. It could have future implications for how much authority government agencies have to enact substantial policy without congressional approval.

The Supreme Court ruling restricts the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions controls to individual power plants rather than regulating the sector as a whole. The EPA had claimed it had this power under the Clean Air Act, while the Supreme Court ruled that Congress would need to explicitly direct the EPA to take this action. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that “It is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme”.

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