SCOTUS decision on EPA authority has impact on Wisconsin regulators

MADISON, Wis. — Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to limit the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators’ authority could have an impact on air pollution in Wisconsin.

The 6-3 decision along ideologic lines ruled that the Clean Air Act, passed and amended in the 1960s and 1970s, does not allow the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The decision goes further, however, said Clean Wisconsin staff attorney Brett Korte.

“What the court did was limit both EPA and the state’s ability to do beyond-the-fence-line regulation of power plants,” Korte said.

Clean Wisconsin joined a group of environmental advocates that intervened in the case, and Korte said the high court’s decision was emblematic of recent trends.

“It doesn’t really surprise us given some recent conservative judicial activism we’ve seen from the court,” he said. “We know that a vast majority of Americans want to see strong climate action. Today’s Supreme Court ruling was just another indication their democracy isn’t working that well right now.”

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The ruling determined that the Clean Air Act did not explicitly grant the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which Korte said violates the spirit of the 50-year-old law.

“There are mechanisms within the Clean Air Act that require the EPA to look for new harmful pollutants, we didn’t know what we know [now] about greenhouse gases in the ’70s when the act was passed,” he said.

He added groups like Clean Wisconsin will continue pushing for regulation that would be in-bounds according to Thursday’s ruling. This would mean in-the-fence-line regulation that could include carbon sequestration. The problem, however, is that those alternatives could be costlier for polluters than beyond-the-fence-line regulation.

“There’s ways to regulate not just CO2, but all the harmful pollutants that come out of gas and coal plants,” he said. “Changing the regulations around those you could also reduce overall emissions.”

Korte said Congress or state legislatures would have to enact specific legislation to accomplish these goals.

The decision also drew frustration from local officials, like Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who said the court undermined what the public wants.

“It is beyond disappointing to see the Supreme Court take actions that could negate our actions by empowering polluters in other parts of the country,” he said.