Supreme Court Strikes Blow To Essential Environmental Protections 

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Carolyn Bobb

June 30, 2022, Washington, D.C. – Today the Supreme Court issued its 6–3 ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which severely handicaps its authority to protect the American people from environmental emergencies. The case itself revolved around an environmental policy that was never even enforced due to changing administrations. There is still EPA power to regulate under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, but the experts have now been severely constrained from using a strong tool to control carbon emissions. 

By claiming authority over “major questions” even when the EPA was regulating fossil fuels explicitly as Congress intended it to do, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has indicated its willingness to usurp the authority of Congress and the expertise of federal agencies to undo any regulation it doesn’t like. This is a huge win for conservative extremists and wealthy and powerful interest groups who oppose any government protections for everyday Americans. 

As Justice Kagan noted in her dissent, “The Court appoints itself —instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.”  She accused the conservative justices of abandoning textualism when it suits them, describing canons like the “major questions doctrine” as “get-out-of-text-free cards” to “prevent agencies from doing important work, even though that is what Congress directed.” 

Alliance for Justice President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement: 

“The science is clear and undeniable: We are in the midst of a planetary emergency caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and the window is closing to avert a total and overwhelming catastrophe. At a time when hundreds of millions of Americans across the country are suffering from extreme drought, forest fires, flooding, and unprecedented heat waves, the Trump Court has just made it harder for the federal government to respond to the rapidly unfolding climate crisis.  

“This decision is a huge power grab by a hyper-partisan Supreme Court. Congress has made clear how it expects the EPA and other agencies to protect our environment, our health, and our civil rights. If judges can simply decide they know more about these issues than Congress and the experts and civil servants working to keep us safe, our democracy will be undermined still further. We cannot have a system where the Court’s conservatives simply declare environmental and public health protections they ideologically disagree with ‘major questions’ that they can dismantle as they please. Congress must respond with legislation to limit this power grab and ensure that future bills they pass will actually have their intended impact.”