The sulfer-coal-burning John E. Amos Power Plant in West Virginia.
The sulfer-coal-burning John E. Amos Power Plant in West Virginia.

The US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that it will be hard for the US to limit its carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. Even though the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency's emissions plan was replaced by the Trump and Biden administrations, the court kept the case going.

The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA can only control emissions from existing facilities and can't force utilities to switch to cleaner generating technologies. It will be hard for the Clean Air Act to be used to force a shift from coal to renewable energy.

Twists and turns

The case is a result of legal back-and-forth that began in the late 1990s. The EPA didn't have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions during the Bush Administration. The Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to the US public.

The "endangerment finding" was created by Bush's EPA and concluded that greenhouse gasses pose a threat. After running out of time, the administration left it to the Obama administration to begin the process of releasing regulations. It ended up in court to get the Trump administration to withdraw the regulations and issue a plan to address carbon dioxide emissions.


The non-plan ended up in court and allowed Biden to be elected. The suits against the Trump plan would be thrown out if the plan had been withdrawn. The suit against the EPA was thrown out. The US Supreme Court kept the case going to address questions brought by a coalition of states and coal companies about the plan formulated by the EPA.

There was an issue about which methods the EPA could use. The best system of emission reduction must be identified by the agency. Carbon capture on fossil fuel plants is not allowed as that technology has not been shown to be up to date. There is no way to bring coal plant emissions down significantly without the help of the EPA.

This convoluted history resulted in West Virginia vs. EPA, which asked the courts to keep use cases that were otherwise meaningless to serve as a vehicle to determine if the EPA has the power to make changes to the power grid.

The Supreme Court revived the case after it was decided by Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow conservatives. The Clean Air Act gave the EPA the power to overstep it. The EPA can only address carbon emissions by setting limits on existing generators. It will be difficult to bring emissions from coal plants down because of this.

We will update this story with more information soon.