Climate change activists all around the world have been cringing in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. In late June, the High Court ruled, 6-3, that the Clean Air Act of 1963 doesn’t give the EPA broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The High Court’s decision comes at a time when climate change is asserting itself in a variety of devastating ways, from record flooding in Sydney, Australia — where around 50,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes — to wildfires in California.
Liberal economist and New York Times opinion writer Paul Krugman slams the Supreme Court in his July 4 column, arguing that the 6-3 majority of Republican-appointed justices is doing its part to make a bad problem even worse.
“The megadrought in the western United States has reduced Lake Mead to a small fraction of its former size, and it now threatens to become a ‘dead pool’ that can no longer supply water to major cities,” Krugman observes. “Climate change is already doing immense damage, and it’s probably only a matter of time before we experience huge catastrophes that take thousands of lives. And the Republican majority on the Supreme Court just voted to limit the Biden Administration’s ability to do anything about it.”
Krugman adds, however, that as “bad” as the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency was, some climate change activists expected it to be even more “sweeping.”
“I guess, given where we are, objectively bad decisions must be graded on a curve,” Krugman comments. “And for what it’s worth, I have a suspicion that at least some of the Republican justices understood the enormity of what they were doing and tried to do as little as possible while maintaining their party fealty. For party fealty is, of course, what this is all about.”
Krugman continues, “Anyone who believes that the recent series of blockbuster Court rulings reflects any consistent legal theory is being willfully naïve: Clearly, the way this Court interprets the law is almost entirely determined by what serves Republican interests. If states want to ban abortion, well, that’s their prerogative. If New York has a law restricting the concealed carrying of firearms, well, that’s unconstitutional. And partisanship is the central problem of climate policy.”
The Times columnist points out that “letting the planet burn” and promoting a “looming apocalypse” wasn’t always a “key GOP tenet.”
“The Environmental Protection Agency, whose scope for action the Court just moved to limit, was created by none other than Richard Nixon,” Krugman notes. “As late as 2008 John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, ran on a promise to impose a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Republican positioning on the environment is also completely unlike that of mainstream conservative parties in other western nations.”
Krugman makes a distinction between “mainstream conservative parties” and “authoritarian” far-right parties like “Hungary’s Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice,” arguing that the GOP has more in common with Fidesz.
“Why, exactly, are authoritarian right-wing parties anti-environment?” Krugman writes. “That’s a discussion for another day. What’s important right now is that the United States is the only major nation in which an authoritarian right-wing party — which lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections yet controls the Supreme Court — has the ability to block actions that might prevent climate catastrophe.”