Biden scrambles to tackle climate change after Supreme Court limits EPA power

Biden scrambles to tackle climate change after Supreme Court limits EPA power

The Supreme Court’s decision curbing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to combat climate change has the Biden administration scrambling to determine how it can still achieve the president’s goals to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade.

While the EPA’s power was reduced, the agency still has tools at its disposal to slow a warming planet. And although the high court determined the EPA could not impose emissions regulations on the entire energy industry, it still has the ability to regulate individual power plants.  

In a 6-3 ruling Thursday, the high court dealt a crushing blow to President Biden’s climate change agenda by siding with 19 Republican-led states that the EPA lacked the broad authority under the Clean Air Act to crack down on emissions from the power industry. Congress has not given the EPA that authority, the conservative justices concluded.

The EPA after the ruling said it would release a new proposed carbon rule for power plants by early next year.

The agency still has many tools to fight climate change, said Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former director of civil enforcement at the agency. The agency could speed up a new rule limiting carbon pollution from power plants, make long-overdue updates to standards on toxic discharges from the plants and move faster to crack down on leaks of methane in natural gas as the Biden administration has promised. 

Mr. Biden has pledged 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.

Other experts told the Associated Press that Mr. Biden could push through targeted emission-cutting measures. Or California and other blue states could roll out their own climate actions.

Still, analysts predict that — with or without new government regulations — the energy industry will continue to move away from coal as a fuel source and toward renewables, especially as the transition becomes increasingly affordable.

S&P Global Commodity Insights said in a note to investors Friday that it expects major progress on ditching coal for greener fuel sources in the coming years.

“We expect coal plants to continue retiring in the United States independent of new federal policies, with coal’s share of U.S. installed capacity dropping to 5% by 2030, down from 30% a decade ago,” said Xizhou Zhou, vice president of global power and renewables at S&P Global.

Roughly 28% of the coal-fired capacity currently in the U.S. will be retired by 2035, according to the Energy Information Administration, the data and research arm of the Department of Energy. About 100 gigawatts of coal capacity has been retired since 2002, or nearly half of the current total capacity.

Coal produces more carbon dioxide emissions than any other source of energy.

Many coal plants are transitioning to natural gas, which accounted for 37% of the nation’s electricity generation last year compared to coal’s 22.5%, according to the Energy Information Administration. While natural gas is far cleaner than coal, it is responsible for potent methane leaks, an issue that is receiving fresh attention with spending from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law being used to try to limit those leaks.

Wind and solar are expected to continue growing, with analysts projecting energy capacity from renewable sources to double by 2030. Last year, wind and solar accounted for 12% of electricity production.

“Wind and solar growth is expected to accelerate even absent new federal regulations, supported by state mandates, corporate decarbonization ambitions and market fundamentals,” said Patrick Luckow, director of North American power and renewables at S&P Global.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.