Environmental issues should not be politicized

Climate change is one of today’s most urgent and far-reaching issues. President Barack Obama has addressed it through his Clean Power Plan, which was announced August 3, 2015. The plan is designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and expand the clean energy economy, but, unlike other proposed solutions such as a tax on the carbon content of fuels, it does not require congressional approval as it alters existing regulations instead of requiring passage of new legislation.

The question of whether the plan oversteps the boundaries of the EPA’s regulatory authority will be decided by the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals this year, but in an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court, by 5-4 vote, issued an injunction preventing the regulations from going into effect before the constitutional issue is decided. The regulations are controversial because they require states to submit plans to reduce emissions and fossil fuel use to the EPA.  Conservatives claim the power to regulate state energy economies is reserved to state governments while liberals disagree. 

A lawsuit against Obama’s plan was brought by a coalition of 27 states plus business and private groups that object to the mandate to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

Just days after the plaintiffs won their injunction, Justice Antonin Scalia died Feb. 13, leaving the fate of the plan more uncertain than before. Scalia was part of the conservative majority that blocked implementation of the regulations and would likely have declared them unconstitutional.

If the regulation goes to the Supreme Court for review prior to the naming of a new justice, the decision will likely be 4-4, which means the D.C. Court of Appeals decision will remain in place.  Many think the D.C. court will uphold the plan because it refused to grant an injunction preventing the plan’s operation. 

If that scenario holds, the implementation of the plan will be delayed for at least a year despite the President having signed a treaty in Paris in December 2015 pledging to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. has a responsibility as a world superpower to take action to reduce its contributions to global warming.  It is unfortunate that the president has to use his executive authority to bring about outcomes that the scientific community agrees are imperative but which a Republican-majority Congress denies are necessary.

The lead state on the case against the EPA is West Virginia, and some of West Virginia’s top industries include energy and chemical and automotive manufacturing. It is understandable why states like West Virginia that rely on industries like these would object to the regulations, but these states will have to face the reality of climate change and their contributions to it at some point. 

Any action would be better than no action at all, which is what is currently happening.  Politics—either in the Court or in Congress—should never deny scientific realities.