Supreme Court Ties EPA’s Hands, Forbidding Emissions Rules

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Given that 2015 is already on a trajectory to become the hottest year on record, and recent studies revealed the “imminent” collapse of the Larsen B and Larsen C ice sheets in Antarctica, today’s US Supreme Court ruling against Environmental Protection Agency pollution rules for power plants is alarming, to say the least.

The pace of human-caused climate disruption is accelerating by the day. One would think that, if those in power had any hope of mitigating the impacts of our super-saturation of the planet’s atmosphere with record levels of CO2, the EPA’s attempts to curb power plant emissions would be given priority.

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For the record, the EPA rules meant to regulate hazardous air pollution and mercury releases from coal- and oil-fired power plants were not exactly strict. Given that industrial civilization is in the process of literally pushing record numbers of species – possibly even our own – into extinction, “lowering” pollution levels emitted from power plants is no miracle solution. Shutting down the polluters entirely and mandating renewable energy on a global level might seem a little more appropriate.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court neglected to affirm even the tepid EPA rules. The court voted 5-4 against the EPA, in a decision that prevents the agency from enacting new rules aimed at reducing the amount of dangerous mercury and other toxic pollutants in the air over the United States. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the fossil fuel industry on this one, writing, “EPA must consider cost – including cost of compliance – before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost.”

Hence, by Scalia’s logic (and, of course, that of the fossil fuel industry), the only “cost” that matters in terms of power plants is how their bottom line might be impacted. Other “costs,” like the fact that the summer ice pack in the Arctic will likely begin seeing ice-free periods starting as soon as next summer, or that planetary species are going extinct at rates beyond those of the “Great Dying” Permian Mass Extinction event, which wiped out over 90 percent of life on earth, are clearly not as important.

Instead, the country’s utility industry argued, and will continue to argue, EPA rules meant to regulate their pollutants cost them too much money. The industry, now backed by the US Supreme Court, believes that any regulations over hazardous air pollution belching out of power plants are no longer “appropriate and necessary.”

Perhaps the next question for the fossil fuel industry and the US Supreme Court will be this: When Miami is underwater from sea level rise, California can no longer grow fruit and vegetables due to its mega-drought, and interstate water battles over what is left of the drying Colorado River plague the Southwest, will regulating pollutants then become “appropriate and necessary?”