The United States Supreme Court sided with West Virginia in West Virginia v. EPA on Thursday, stating that the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, overstepped in its interpretation of the Clean Air Act, or CAA.
In a 6-3 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts issuing the majority opinion, the court effectively ruled former President Barack Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan — which established guidelines for states to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants — invalid. This limited the EPA’s ability to regulate coal-fired power plants.
“California will remain the tentpole for this movement with record investments and aggressive policies to reduce pollution, to protect people from extreme weather, and to leave our children and grandchildren a world that’s better off than we found it,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a press release.
California’s climate action plans will remain in place, as the state is already ahead of its targets.
EPA administrator Michael Regan also issued a statement in response to the ruling, stating that he was “deeply disappointed,” but that the EPA will remain committed to using the full breadth of its legal authorities in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.
This disappointment is shared by UC Berkeley Sho Sato law professor Daniel Farber and his colleagues. In an analysis, however, Farber noted that the ruling was “more than a flesh wound” but not fatal.
Farber added that the majority opinion still allows the EPA other options to regulate coal-fired power plants.
“What the court said was that EPA would have to come up with something that was more limited, focusing on individuals,” Farber said. “But there are some things that I think EPA can do at the level of the individual power plant that would make up the difference.”
In his analysis, Farber also noted that prior to the ruling, the Clean Power Plan was already “dead in all but name.” It was also repealed by former President Donald Trump, who had adopted an even more conservative interpretation of the section about the CAA, Farber said in the analysis.
Farber added that West Virginia v. EPA was not a constitutional ruling, but rather based on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the CAA. However, Congress can change the law to restore the EPA’s power, according to Farber.
“Some people are portraying it as a huge disaster; I don’t think it’s as bad as that,” Farber said. “It’s a serious setback, but it’s one that we can move past.”