Obama’s Coal Policy Gets Big Pat on the Back From Supreme Court

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

A Tuesday Supreme Court ruling was both an enormous win for the Obama administration’s environmental policy agenda and a major blow to the coal industry. The case ruled on whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency would be able to enact regulatory measures on pollution stemming from coal-fired power plants. With a 6 to 2 ruling, the Clean Air Act was upheld, with the decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As with all Supreme Court rulings, upholding the EPA’s right to control for the air pollution within the coal energy industry has wider implications for future policy, indicating that further environmental control measures would stand up to judicial review.

Standing against the EPA, 15 states and those relevant utilities all argued that the regulations would result in an unjust economic strain on the states in question, while states on the opposite side of the court room demanded that “good neighbor” rules be put in place to reduce and prevent pollution across state borders — a complex problem of wind dynamic that Ginsburg addressed in the courts decision, saying that, “Some pollutants stay within upwind states’ borders, the wind carries others to downwind states, and some subset of that group drifts to states without air quality problems.” She further stated, “In crafting a solution to the problem of interstate air pollution, regulators must account for the vagaries of the wind.”

As for the economic strain placed on those states whose industries must contend with the new policy demands, the distribution of this cost was part of what dissenters to the ruling took issue with. The EPA distributes the regulations relevant states based upon two criteria — how much pollution they are creating and how and how expensive such cuts would be for each state. This individualized demand was one Justice Antonin Scalia noted, alongside his fellow dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas. “The ‘from each according to its ability’ approach requires the unwieldy field examination of many pollution-producing sources with many sorts of equipment,” said Scalia, stating that he had full confidence in the EPA’s experts ability to deal with the quantitative side of the statute.

Of course, the logistical side of the issue wasn’t the only one that Scalia took issue with. In a criticism of the Obama administration, he wrote that, “Too many important decisions of the Federal Government are made nowadays by unelected agency officials exercising broad lawmaking authority, rather than by the people’s representatives in Congress,” a reflection of Obama’s recent pen and phone policy plan that has had Republicans in Congress highly critical of the President. He goes on to name Congress’s “good neighbor” legislation as a good example of regulatory policy that already exists, and criticizes the EPA for adding to it unnecessarily and in what he labels as a both “unwieldy” and “Marxist” way.

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