'It doesn't have a clue': Elena Kagan blasts conservative majority over 'frightening' decision on pollution
Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan speaking in 2013. (Photograph by Stuart Isett/Fortune Most Powerful Women)

U.S. Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan rebuked the majority who stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of some of its regulatory powers.

The 6-3 ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency limited the federal government's ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, which Kagan lamented in her dissent had weakened “the power to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”

"The subject matter of the regulation here makes the Court’s intervention all the more troubling," she wrote. "Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change. And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions."

"The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy," Kagan concluded. "I cannot think of many things more frightening. Respectfully, I dissent."

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The ruling was a significant victory for the coal mining and coal power industry, which had been targeted for tough limits in 2015 by the administration of then president Barack Obama in an effort to slash carbon pollution.

It was also a victory for conservatives fighting government regulation of industry, with the court's majority including three right-wing justices named by former president Donald Trump, who had sought to weaken the EPA.

While EPA had the power to regulate individual plants, the court ruled, Congress had not given it such expansive powers to set limits for all electricity generating units.

The majority justices said they recognized that putting caps on carbon dioxide emissions to transition away from coal-generated electricity "may be a sensible solution" to global warming.

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But they said the case involved a "major question" of US governance and jurisprudence and that the EPA would have to be specifically delegated such powers by the legislature.

"It is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme," they said.

"A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body," they said.


With additional reporting by AFP