A lot of people are thrilled with the Supreme Court after the landmark decision to support gay marriage rights, but President Barack Obama might have mixed feelings about the justices for other reasons. In another, quieter decision handed down on June 29, the Supreme Court blocked Obama’s plan to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. This decision will make it more difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency to meet its goal to cut power plant emissions 30 percent by 2030.
According to the court decision, the crux of the issue is less about executive power and environmental protection and more about money. Despite the overwhelming (and ever-climbing) costs of climate change, which the EPA estimates are in the hundreds of billions, the justices were narrowly split 5-4 with a majority in favor of protecting the coal industry. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the decision, “It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits.”
During the case, which targeted the EPA’s actions as well as its processes, there were multiple arguments about the cost and benefits of combating climate change in the interest of environmental conditions and public health. The EPA stands by its argument that the agency is not required to take cost into consideration when evaluating necessary environmental regulations, but the court seems to disagree.
The Supreme Court isn’t the only body working to halt Obama’s efforts. The House of Representatives recently voted to put the brakes on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. This new court decision feels a little confusing after last year’s decision to uphold the EPA’s jurisdiction over carbon emissions, and analysts suggest the EPA will have to get more serious about cost-benefit scenarios in order to persuade Congressional Republicans the environment is worth investing in.