According to environmental groups, today’s Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA is one of the most environmentally devastating decisions in decades.
Organizations, including the New York League of Conservation Voters and Environmental Advocates of New York, say the court’s decision will limit the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, the second largest contributor to global warming in the United States.
"Stripping the federal government of its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the middle of a climate crisis is … it doesn’t get any worse than that,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told Capital Tonight. “It really shines a light on the need for states to step up, Congress to step up. This is an all-hands-on deck, five-alarm fire.”
Under the court’s decision on abortion, states may enact their own laws to counter Dodd v. Jackson Women’s Health. But under the federal Clean Air Act, with few exceptions, most states may not enact stronger than the EPA.
The good news is that New York is a “delegated state,” meaning that the federal government has delegated to New York the authority to implement the Clean Air Act, and that the state can act more aggressively than the EPA. But Seggos argues there is only so much one state can do.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had a setback,” Seggos said. “A few years ago, Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accords. We stepped up by partnering with 25 other states to start the U.S. Climate Alliance and that’s had a huge impact on the trajectory of emissions here in the U.S.”
But the ruling will likely not speed up enactment of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the aggressive climate law that the state passed in 2019.
“We will remain on target. We very much have December 31 in our sights,” Seggos said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re going to wait until then to take action on issues as they arise.”
The CLCPA’s goal is to achieve 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040, and a reduction of 85% of greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2050.
The commissioner told Capital Tonight that the DEC is still absorbing the 89-page decision and dissent before asking the legislature to take any action. However, Seggos believes the significance of the decision goes beyond hindering the country’s ability to take action on climate.
“It’s tearing apart the administrative state, which I think was the objective of some of the folks who petitioned the Supreme Court on this case,” he said.