In June, the United States Supreme Court wrapped up the 2022-23 term much like the previous one. In late May, the court undercut the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate water pollution under the Clean Water Act. That came nearly a year after it curtailed the EPA’s authority to broadly regulate emissions from power plants. This continued barrage on federal environmental regulations leaves us in a precarious spot.
“The vice in both instances is the same,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion on the water pollution ruling, “the Court’s appointment of itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy”.
In April, the Biden administration proposed ambitious new regulations to reduce methane pollution, tighten fuel-efficiency standards, and curtail emissions from power plants – essential steps for slashing national emissions in half by 2030. As opponents bring new legal challenges before a sympathetic Supreme Court, we cannot assume these measures will stand.
State- and local-level leaders will be our last line of defence against judicial overreach – they must rise to the occasion and enact ambitious climate policies of their own. When groups of states leverage their collective influence, they can set de facto national policy. Fortunately, that work is well under way.
State governments are amplifying the impact of their efforts by banding together. Twelve states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have set up their own regional cap-and-trade arrangement, a market-based mechanism for reducing emissions; California and Washington have created similar systems.
Another promising coalition is the US Climate Alliance, a group of 25 states and territories representing 58 percent of US GDP, 54 percent of the population and 41 percent of national emissions. There is a real upside to this collective approach.