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California pledges to redouble climate efforts after Supreme Court’s EPA ruling

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 6/30/2022 By Bob Egelko
Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown in June, said Thursday that the Supreme Court’s ruling limiting federal authority to regulate greenhouse gases “makes it even more imperative that California and other states succeed in our efforts to combat the climate crisis.” © Andri Tambunan/Special To The Chronicle

Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown in June, said Thursday that the Supreme Court’s ruling limiting federal authority to regulate greenhouse gases “makes it even more imperative that California and other states succeed in our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that federal officials have no authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants was a blow against national efforts to combat global warming. For California officials, it also showed the need for state action.

“Today’s ruling makes it even more imperative that California and other states succeed in our efforts to combat the climate crisis,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “While the court has once again turned back the clock, California refuses to go backward — we’re just getting started.”

“We are running out of time in the fight against climate change, and we need all levels of government working together to take action before it’s too late,” state Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.

Or as Chris Carr, an environmental attorney at the San Francisco law firm Paul Hastings, put it, the ruling “signals to climate-leading states, like California, that they need to do all that they can to continue to lead.”

The 6-3 ruling by the court’s conservative majority did not prohibit regulation of power plant emissions, but said it was not clearly authorized by the Clean Air Act of 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency, which was also established by federal law in 1970, could try to invoke other federal laws to reduce coal plant emissions, a major source of planet-heating greenhouse gases.

But for now, the court has put federal regulation on hold, as temperatures rise and wildfire warnings increase. The Biden administration could ask Congress to change the law, but such changes would most likely be doomed by a filibuster in the current U.S. Senate.


Video: Supreme Court ruling casts cloud over U.S. leadership in global climate fight (Reuters)

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The ruling applies only to federal law, and would not prevent states from taking their own actions. Newsom noted that California has committed billions of dollars to programs to reduce climate change and protect residents from its impact.

Those include investments in making electric vehicles more affordable, providing electric-powered buses for public schools, developing clean energy technology, and reducing the risks of wildfires with forest-thinning, prescribed burns and other measures, the governor said.

He has also called for ending the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in the state by 2035, and for ending oil drilling by 2045. While Newsom has resisted an immediate ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses high-pressure liquids to release underground oil and gas deposits, he has ordered a halt to new fracking permits in 2024.

The ruling does not affect the EPA’s authority to require existing power plants to limit their emissions by operating cleanly, or to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and other sources, said Cara Horowitz, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law School. She also cited “California’s important ability to seek and receive a (federal) waiver to enact (greenhouse gas) standards for cars and other transportation sources.”

At the local level, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said in a statement that his office “will continue to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the damage they have caused and work with state and local partners to curtail climate change.”

Attorney Eric Buescher of the environmental group San Francisco Baykeeper denounced the court’s “judicial power grab” and said it would make his organization’s job much harder. “But thankfully, when action on the federal level might fail us, we still have California’s environmental laws to back us up,” he said.

Still, residents of states with strong regulations would remain exposed to the consequences of emissions from elsewhere, in the absence of nationwide restrictions. And any far-reaching state actions would most likely be challenged by industry groups as an interference with federal authority, with the Supreme Court as the final arbiter.

Said Buescher: “For anyone who cares about clean air, clean water, individual autonomy, privacy, public health, public safety or democratic institutions — the most frightening words imaginable begin with: ‘The Supreme Court has agreed to review.’”

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko

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