“Almost Everything It Wanted”

A slight setback at the Supreme Court doesn’t change the fact that we’re winning the war on carbon pollution.

gvgoebel/Flickr

gvgoebel/Flickr

The political war surrounding the government’s efforts to limit emissions is ending not with a bang but a whimper.

“It bears mention that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Justice Antonin Scalia said on Monday while announcing the 5–4 verdict in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA.

Technically, though, the ruling was a slight loss for the EPA. The majority found that the agency’s efforts to force any fixed operation that emits pollutants to get permission before it expands was an overreach of the agency’s authority. But the ruling also upheld the ability of the EPA to force power plants and other operations that emit pollutants to adhere to its new standards. The way Scalia saw it, the decision lets the EPA regulate 83 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, instead of the 86 percent it could regulate under the authority it abrogated unto itself. “To permit the extra 3 percent, however, we would have to recognize a power in EPA and other government agencies to revise clear statutory terms,” Scalia said, adding that would contradict “the principle that Congress, not the president, makes the law.”

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.