Washington State Leaders Want to ‘Accelerate’ Climate Efforts After Supreme Court Limits EPA’s Power


The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority over power plant carbon dioxide emissions, and Washington state leaders quickly announced they would take more aggressive action to combat the rollbacks.

“This decision — the West Virginia case this morning — essentially kneecapped the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to restrain pollution from these coal-fired plants,” Gov. Jay Inslee said during a press conference Thursday. 

The 6-3 ruling in the West Virginia v. EPA decision was delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts. The dissenting justices were Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

While Inslee said he believes the state has done “great work” in attempting to meet climate targets, efforts need to be redoubled to reduce carbon pollution in the upcoming years. The current climate goals are not yet being met, he noted, therefore the use of “dirty gas” such as the gas used indoors for cooking will need to be restrained in the future. 

“We are sounding the alarm and we are proud of what we’ve done, but this decision makes it clear that we will have to accelerate our efforts when it comes to climate change and carbon pollution,” Inslee said.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University showed that natural gas stoves contribute to pollution significantly because they slowly leak methane. This can degrade indoor air quality, and nitrogen oxides in the gas can cause respiratory diseases such as asthma. 

Attempts have previously been made in the legislature to prohibit gas appliances in new buildings, but those have not passed. Inslee said there may be a decision reached in the upcoming legislative session to get the policy on the books. It would not affect existing gas appliances, he said. 

The governor was joined Thursday in a virtual press conference by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, and Rep. Davina Duerr, D-Bothell.

Carlyle, who has introduced and passed several pieces of climate legislation in the Washington Senate, said it is hard to see the Supreme Court’s decision as “anything other than ideological.”

“It is a pretty jolting reality check that it seems like the goal itself is to eviscerate the ability of the EPA to implement enterprise-wide, or system-wide or nationwide policies,” he said.

Duerr added that pollution is an environmental justice issue that disproportionately affects communities of color.

“It’s really incumbent upon us not just in Washington but the entire country to deal with this issue if we want to be a country of equity,” she said. 

Inslee noted that the reversal will not affect the closing of the Centralia TransAlta power plant by 2025.

The Supreme Court’s ruling cut back the EPA’s ability to reduce the carbon output of existing power plants. 

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” Roberts wrote, referring to a court precedent. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the dissenters, countered: “The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening.” 

The decision risks putting the United States even further off track from President Joe Biden’s goal of running the U.S. power grid on clean energy by 2035 – and making the entire economy carbon-neutral by 2050.

Biden said the ruling “is another devastating decision that aims to take our country backwards. While this decision risks damaging our nation’s ability to keep our air clean and combat climate change, I will not relent in using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis.” 

The court was considering the powers granted by the Clean Air Act, which was written decades ago, before climate change was widely recognized as a worldwide crisis.