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State Officials React to Supreme Court EPA Ruling

July 4, 2022, 7:30 AM HST
* Updated July 3, 2:05 PM
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State officials reacted this weekend to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions of power plants.

Hawaiʻi Attorney General Holly Shikada said the high court’s ruling in the case of West Virginia vs. the EPA is unfortunate — a “significant setback to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the threat of climate change.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision to limit EPA’s authority to regulate the fossil fuel industry represents a regrettable rejection of EPA’s efforts to reduce overall carbon emissions from the second largest source of greenhouse gases, coal-fired power plants,” Shikada said in a statement provided to Big Island Now via email.

The June 30 ruling goes against the nation’s efforts to reduce the carbon footprint and combat climate change globally; however, the EPA maintains that it has authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in an Associated Press article last week that the agency “will move forward with lawfully setting and implementing environmental standards that meet our obligation to protect all people and all communities from environmental harm.”

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Shikada said in her statement that in rejecting EPA’s broad authority to regulate carbon emissions, the court examined the Clean Power Plan, a 2015 rule establishing goals for each state to cut power plant emissions by 2030, which the EPA already repealed and intends to replace with a new rule.

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The majority opinion provides that a section of the Clean Air Act does not empower EPA to compel the energy sector to undertake a generational shift in energy production away from coal to technologies generating less carbon dioxide. Rather, the decision holds that a question of this magnitude should be treated as a “major question” that only Congress can answer by explicitly legislating such a shift.

Hawaiʻi was part of a coalition of 30 states and municipalities that in a brief to the Supreme Court argued the EPA does in fact have authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate fossil fuel energy sector emissions.

“This embrace of the ‘major questions doctrine’ is a novel approach to statutory interpretation and places additional limitations on an agency’s ability to exercise its expertise in determining how best to implement legislation,” Shikada’s statement said. “The majority decision suggests that Congress didn’t entrust the EPA to adopt regulations that balance the interests of energy production and environmental controls on a scale necessary to effectuate meaningful change.”

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The state Department of Health is also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change is a major threat to public health — climate change threatens our clean air and drinking water and will lead to the emergence of new diseases,” DOH Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho said in a statement that was included with Shikada’s.

Ho added that the ruling is disappointing, but the DOH and attorney general join Gov. David Ige in recommitting to state action to fight climate change and protect public health and the environment.

Several state legislators also weighed in on the high court’s ruling.

Thirty-three Democrats in the Hawaiʻi House of Representatives, including House Speaker Scott Saiki, issued a joint statement saying the ruling reinforces the importance of climate action in state legislatures throughout the nation.

“Hawai’i has been a leader in this regard for many years and will continue to demonstrate to other states what it is possible to achieve through state policy,” said the statement, which was provided to Big Island Now via email. “We are committed to transitioning to clean energy, clean transportation, to upholding the Paris Agreement and to decarbonizing the state’s economy. The state legislature will continue to work to minimize Hawai’i’s emissions and to do our part for the planet and for the next generation.”

Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth also reaffirmed the county’s commitment to climate action in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“We remain committed to our goal of fostering a sustainable Hawaiʻi Island where our keiki can thrive and succeed for generations to come,” Roth said in a press release issued Friday.

Click here to read the Supreme Court decision.

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