In June, at the end of its 2021-2022 Term, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling with far reaching implications for the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to regulate Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emissions and any attempt to limit the impacts of climate change. In a ruling by the conservative majority of the Court in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Court held that an EPA regulation attempting to regulate GHG emissions exceeded the authority of the EPA. The decision is unusual as the rule was never fully implemented. While the rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, adopted in 2015, was intended to implement what the EPA found was the “best system of emission reduction” or ” the BSER, for the kind of existing source at issue”, the rule was stayed by the Court in 2016.
The rule was based on an analysis undertaken by the EPA.
“Having decided that the BSER was one that would reduce carbon pollution mostly by moving production to cleaner sources, EPA then set about determining ‘the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application’ of that system. … The Agency recognized that, in translating the BSER into an operational emissions limit, it could choose whether to require anything from a little generation shifting to a great deal. It settled on what it regarded as a ‘reasonable’ amount of shift, which it based on modeling how much more electricity both natural gas and renewable sources could supply without causing undue cost increases or reducing the overall power supply. … The Agency ultimately projected, for instance, that it would be feasible to have coal provide 27% of national electricity generation by 2030, down from 38% in 2014.”