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The Little Known Supreme Court Case and Its Impact on America’s Environment

Updated: May 3, 2022

by Caleb Rogart

Power plants account for nearly one third of the nation’s carbon footprint. This may not be a very widely known fact in the United States, but it is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. While on the surface, power plants appear to have nothing to do with the upcoming Supreme Court case West Virginia vs The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to see the bigger picture of the case, one must go back to 2015.

2015 was a newsworthy year to say the least, with water being discovered on Mars, the Ebola outbreak officially being declared over, and same-sex marriage being legalized in the United States. It was also the year that the Obama administration attempted to pass the Clean Power Plan, whose sole purpose was to limit greenhouse gas emissions in power plants. The plan was sued by Republican states, taken to the Supreme Court, and scrapped when the Trump Administration came to power. Under the Trump administration, no significant pieces of environmental legislation were passed. Recently, the Biden administration attempted to establish limits on greenhouse emissions, but many Republican states have already stepped in to obstruct the legislation.

West Virginia vs EPA, in simple terms, is an attempt to prevent Congress from being able to let the EPA regulate nationwide emissions. If the EPA cannot limit emissions, then it makes it very difficult to be able to meet climate change goals. If these goals are not met, possible outcomes include more severe impacts such as longer and hotter summers and harsher winters, stronger UV rays being more deadly than ever causing skin cancer and other diseases, and a significant reduction in air quality. What many people fail to realize is that more greenhouse gasses also means more mercury, toxic metals, and acid gas emissions. Specifically, power plants are estimated to produce 50% of mercury, 60% of toxic metals, and over 75% of acid gas emissions respectively.

Vickie Patton, the general counsel to the Environmental Defense Fund, said petitioners in West Virginia vs. EPA are “asking the Court to do far-reaching damage to ways we protect human life: by regulating food safety, car safety, deadly pollution, and so on. There’s an enormous amount at stake for the American people.” Since Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation regarding a major environmental issue since 1990, the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia vs EPA will have long-lasting impacts for years to come.


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