A view of the front portico of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC.
(*This op-Ed was updated at 3:11 p.m. on Tuesday, July 5, 2022 with new material)
By Stephen Herzenberg
Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA that favors coal companies, limits the ability of the federal government to address climate change, and foreshadows future decisions on labor and other regulations that will favor corporations and reinforce economic inequality.
Fair enough. That’s not much of a news alert but rather what people expected from the activist conservative majority on the current court.
It’s important for the public to understand the implications of this decision both narrowly and broadly. From a narrow perspective, the Biden administration and the growing majority of Americans that recognize the existential threat of climate change need to be as creative and forceful as possible in working around the constraints created by the decision. The imperative of rapidly reducing carbon emissions is not going away.
From a broad perspective, it’s important for Americans generally to understand that the high court is a critical obstacle to the future the vast majority want to achieve—one with opportunity for all, that seeks to protect the places we love and only plant we have from the ravages of global warming, and that restores some measure of equity in schooling, in housing, in health, in environmental justice.
Americans may be divided on individual Supreme Court decisions, including on guns and abortion, but—even if they don’t recognize it fully–they are united that we don’t need the high court leaning in again and again on the side of big corporations and the wealthy. But since that’s the Supreme Court we’ve got, it will take organizing, activism, shaming (of the court) and use of the powers the court hasn’t taken away yet to push back.
Turning to the specifics of this decision, the first critical point is that the court overreached to hear the case. The most obvious “tell” of the Court’s activism: the 2015 Clean Power Plan never went into effect and the Biden Administration had no plans to resurrect it when it took office. There was no need to take this case or render this decision—except to advance the majority’s conservative agenda.
Now that the decision has been made, the good news is that, while it constrains EPA, it leaves many climate action tools available—even at the federal level. Moreover, states and localities, which have taken most of productive action on climate recently, are not impacted by the decision.
To keep growing the public support for climate action, we need to keep pushing back on conservative assumptions that reducing carbon emissions will hurt the economy, raise taxes and reduce growth and incomes. In fact, the climate imperative may well fuel a wave of innovation, lower energy costs, and create millions of jobs nationally and hundreds of thousands in Pennsylvania. With the right policies, more of these jobs will be good union jobs, including in skilled trades and manufacturing.
In a wide range of areas, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority will be an obstacle to achieving the future most of us want. We need to use its extremism to galvanize and unify us to create that world anyway.
Stephen Herzenberg is the executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a progressive think-tank in Harrisburg.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.