The Supreme Court heard a case Monday that could end up limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency—and every other government agency. The court heard two hours of arguments on whether the EPA should have the authority to regulate power plants, and some members of the court's conservative majority expressed sympathy with the coal companies and 19 mostly GOP-led states challenging the agency's authority, Forbes reports. The New York Times—which calls this "the most important environmental case in more than a decade"—reports that a decision to limit the EPA's authority could doom President Biden's plan to halve US emissions by the end of the decade.
The EPA currently has no plan in place to put limits on carbon emissions from power plants, and environmental groups argued that the top court was dealing with the issue prematurely, as did lawyers for the Biden administration, the AP reports. David Doniger, a climate change expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the administration's opponents are coming up with "horror stories about extreme regulations the EPA may issue in the future. The EPA is writing a new rule on a clean slate." Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said the administration's rule on emissions will be issued by the end of the year and the Supreme Court should consider it then, report the Times. Analysts say it's very unusual for the court to look at a case involving hypothetical future legislation.
A decision in the case is expected by late June. The Clean Power Plan targeted by the West Virginia-led lawsuit was revoked years ago, but the Supreme Court decided to review it anyway in what NPR calls an "unusually muscular assertion of power," with the apparent aim of limiting the power of government agencies and possibly Congress itself. Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard, tells the Times that if the justices issue a broad ruling strictly limiting the EPA's authority, it could severely hamper federal agencies' ability to issue rules "under any host of federal statutes—OSHA, the Clean Water Act, hazardous waste regulation. In theory it even could limit the Fed’s authority to set interest rates." (The UN issued a grim warning in a climate report Monday.)