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Jul. 1—West Virginia lawmakers and state officials were applauding a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday that limits how the nation's main air pollution laws can be used to reduce power plants' carbon dioxide emissions.
By a 6-3 vote in the case of West Virginia vs EPA, with conservatives in the majority, the court ruled that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Gov. Jim Justice praised the Supreme Court's ruling.
"This ruling in favor of West Virginia will stop unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. from being able to unilaterally decarbonize our economy just because they feel like it," Justice said. "Instead, members of Congress who have been duly elected to represent the will of the people across all of America will be allowed to have a rightful say when it comes to balancing our desire for a clean environment with our need for energy and the security it provides us.
"People like to say 'D.C. has too much power.' They're right," Justice stated. "For too long, our federal bureaucracy has had almost unlimited, unchecked power over us with little accountability to the public. Agencies shouldn't get to make unilateral decisions affecting all of our lives without Congress's vote. That's what this case really does, it gives power back to the people.
"West Virginia is one of the few states in the nation where all agency regulations must be approved by a vote of the state legislature before they take effect. I'm glad that the federal government will now be following the West Virginia model," he said. "I want to thank our Attorney General for all his hard work arguing this case right up to the Supreme Court. This ruling will have a positive impact on our country for generations to come and I'm proud that West Virginia was the state leading the way in this landmark case."
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court was a "great win for West Virginia and her residents."
"We are pleased this case returned the power to decide one of the major environmental issues of the day to the right place to decide it: the U.S. Congress, comprised of those elected by the people to serve the people," Morrisey said. "This is about maintaining the separation of powers, not climate change. Today, the Court made the correct decision to rein in the EPA, an unelected bureaucracy. and we're not done. My office will continue to fight for the rights of West Virginians when those in Washington try to go too far in asserting broad powers without the people's support."
In West Virginia v U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a lower court ruling in a 6-3 decision that would have given the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency virtually unlimited authority to regulate wide swaths of everyday life. In particular, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals mistakenly concluded that a narrow provision of federal law grants EPA broad authority to reorder entire economic sectors, such as manufacturing, hotels, and power generation in broad ways, Morrisey said.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., released a statement about the Supreme Court ruling.
"As detailed in the bicameral amicus brief I led along with Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, this case was critical in making clear that EPA does not have the authority to issue regulations that transform how we use and generate electricity in this country," Capito said. "If Congress had intended to give EPA such sweeping authority to transform an entire sector of our economy, Congress would have done so explicitly."
"Today's decision by the Supreme Court is welcome news and further proves that EPA overstepped its authority by imposing enormously burdensome regulations on states to reconfigure our electric grid despite Congress's rejection," Capito said. "I congratulate Attorney General Morrisey for his leadership on this important victory for West Virginia and the entire nation, which ensures that EPA can never issue an overreaching regulation like the Clean Power Plan again. EPA must follow the law, and as Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I will continue to conduct oversight of EPA to make sure the agency does not attempt to devastate the people and industries of West Virginia as it did with the Clean Power Plan ever again."
West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore called the ruling a victory for the rule of law and West Virginia's taxpayers.
"For years, unelected bureaucrats in the administrative state have been trying to destroy our fossil fuel industries by transforming the EPA into a Communist-style central planning authority because they know they can't get their radical environmental policies passed through Congress. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this overreach must end," Moore said.
A Virginia lawmaker joined in praising the Supreme Court's ruling.
"The Supreme Court today reaffirmed one of the fundamentals of our constitutional structure: the legislature writes the laws. The Obama Administration's EPA overreached its authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act," said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va. "The agency gave itself power that Congress had not given to it, and I applaud the Court for reining in this unconstitutional action. This is not the first time the Court has ruled that the Obama-Biden Administration's EPA went beyond its authority."
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., condemned the Supreme Court's ruling
"At a time we're seeing devastating impacts of climate change in communities across Virginia and the nation, it's outrageous that the out-of-touch Supreme Court has handcuffed the EPA's ability to address the climate crisis," Kaine stated. "Just yesterday, I was in Norfolk to meet with experts about the all-hands-on-deck fight to protect Virginians from sea level rise and flooding caused by climate change. These impacts hurt families, our military installations in the area, and our economic competitiveness. We should be using all the tools at our disposal to tackle climate change — not only building climate resilient infrastructure, but also moving to a cleaner energy future."
The court's ruling could complicate the Biden administration's plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year, according to the Associated Press.
President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30 percent of carbon dioxide output.
"Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible 'solution to the crisis of the day,'" Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the court.
But Roberts wrote that the Clean Air Act doesn't give EPA the authority to do so and that Congress must speak clearly on this subject.
"A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body," he wrote.
In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the decision strips the EPA of the power Congress gave it to respond to "the most pressing environmental challenge of our time."
Kagan said the stakes in the case are high. She said, "The Court appoints itself—instead of Congress or the expert agency—the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening."
The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from the generation of electricity, mainly by shifting away from coal-fired plants.
But that plan never took effect. Acting in a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016 by a 5-4 vote, with conservatives in the majority.
With the plan on hold, the legal fight over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited and it devised a new plan that sharply reduced the federal government's role in the issue.
New York, 21 other mainly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the nation's largest cities sued over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted a new policy.
Adding to the unusual nature of the high court's involvement, the reductions sought in the Obama plan by 2030 already have been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal plants.
Power plant operators serving 40 million people called on the court to preserve the companies' flexibility to reduce emissions while maintaining reliable service, according to the Associated Press. Prominent businesses that include Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla also backed the administration.
Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the fight at the Supreme Court against broad EPA authority to regulate carbon output.
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