Supreme Court leaves little hope in Biden administration’s plan to tackle climate change

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 500 days into his presidency, Joe Biden’s hope of saving the Earth from the most devastating effects of climate change may not be quite dead.

But it’s not far.

A Supreme Court ruling on Thursday not only limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate pollution from power plants, but also suggests the court is poised to block other efforts to Biden and federal agencies to limit climate-damaging fumes emitted by oil, gas and coal. .

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It’s a blow to Biden’s commitment to cut emissions in the few years that scientists say remain to avoid worse and deadlier levels of global warming. And it’s a sign to Democrats at home and their allies abroad that Biden’s remaining options are dwindling to reverse the legacy of President Donald Trump, who scoffed at the science of climate change. Trump’s three Supreme Court appointees provided half of the affirmative votes in Thursday’s 6-3 ruling.

After the ruling, a veteran Democratic lawmaker admitted he also saw little hope that Congress would produce meaningful climate legislation. “There is no easy Congressional solution to this mess,” said Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. The foreign allies Biden once spoke of leading a global clean energy transformation wonder if the United States can even lead itself.

The climate decision in some ways “may have wider impacts at least on the people of Europe than this is a country that, A: can’t get things done and B: is going in a really weird direction domestically”, said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

And in a Houston neighborhood entering hurricane season, a man who had spent four decades advocating for black communities and other communities of color and the poorest communities hardest hit by pollution and record heat, the cold, floods and storms of climate change reacted to the decision as many others have – saying rescuing climate efforts now depends on Biden and his will to act and lead.

“It’s real,” said Robert Bullard, an academic who has become a pioneer in what has become America’s movement for environmental justice, of increasing natural disasters – the kind scientists say are influenced by global warming. of the atmosphere – destroying cities on America’s vulnerable Gulf of Mexico. .

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“Those communities that were flooded… some of those communities still have blue tarps over their homes,” Bullard said. “So I don’t think the Supreme Court and some of our elected officials are talking about the urgency of where we are when it comes to our climate.”

Biden’s EPA still has important steps to take, but it must act quickly, Eric Schaeffer, the agency’s former director of civil enforcement, said in a statement. Among them: Speeding up a new rule limiting carbon pollution from power plants, updating long-running toxic release standards from power plants, and moving faster to clamp down on leaks of climate-damaging methane in natural gas like l Biden administration has already promised it.

After Thursday’s decision, the EPA pledged to introduce a new carbon rule proposal for power plants early next year.

Biden has pledged to halve the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade and have an emissions-free electricity sector by 2035.

“Our fight against climate change must move forward, and it will,” Biden said in a statement after the decision that offered no guarantee of success.

His team would “find ways that we can, under federal law, continue to protect Americans” from pollution and climate change, Biden said.

The dismay expressed at the Supreme Court action by many among the majority of Americans who say they are deeply concerned about climate change reflected that it was just the latest setback to Biden’s early promises to cut emissions. .

A divided Congress has already dealt Biden what was the worst climate defeat of his term so far when two Democrats, including coal state lawmaker Joe Manchin, joined Senate Republicans in refusing to pass Biden’s Build Back Better package.

The climate portions of the legislation were intended to kick-start America’s transformation into a land of electric cars, clean industry and energy-efficient buildings. Biden was able to advance some smaller parts of his proposal, including electric car chargers.

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And this year, in a development as dangerous to Biden’s early climate hopefuls as the Supreme Court’s ruling, a global oil and gas supply crisis has driven gasoline prices to record highs. This fueled inflation and voter anger against Biden, and potentially other Democrats.

The lack of energy left Biden rushing for additional oil and gas. It’s also unclear whether he still feels he has the political capital to lead America’s shift to renewable energy as decisively as he promised as a candidate and during his first months in power.

Left-leaning political pundits, lawmakers and everyday people say Biden, Democrats and climate-conscious Republicans still have avenues to follow to advance climate efforts.

One is ambitious and shrewd executive action — if Biden dares — to push through carefully targeted emissions reduction measures.

A second is climate action from California and other blue states that have stepped in before to challenge Trump’s climate rollbacks in court.

A third option is a pitch that Biden and Democrats are increasingly throwing at voters — electing enough Democrats midterm to allow Congress to pass laws thwarting conservative rollbacks, in Congress and on the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s decision came as Biden relished a successful meeting with NATO allies, who rallied with the United States to confront Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After Biden’s early proclamations at summits early in his term that “America is back!”, the Supreme Court setback has underscored to allies just how vulnerable the US president remains on the home front, including including when it comes to meeting climate commitments.

As the decision was released, Biden envoy John Kerry was flying out after an oceans conference in Portugal, still working for global, country-by-country commitments to cut emissions. Like Biden, Kerry’s pledges on U.S. climate ambitions have grown more muted as the hurdles grow.

Domestic climate setbacks helped slow the early global momentum for climate breakthroughs. They have weakened American influence as Kerry urges countries including China to turn away from coal and other harmful fossil fuels – something Biden promised the United States would lead by example.

AP writers Nancy Benac and Jennifer McDermott contributed to this report.


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