Wyoming Energy Industry Applauds Supreme Court Ruling That Diminishes EPA Authority

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A U.S. Supreme Court decision reducing the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restrict emissions from Wyoming power plants was welcomed Thursday by members of the state’s energy industry.

The 6-3 Supreme Court decision found that the EPA does not have authority to force power producers to switch to power sources other than fossil fuels as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision today simply because it is reining in unelected bureaucrats’ decision-making power that had been abdicated by Congress,” said Ryan McConnaughey, vice president and director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “We believe this reins in regulations made by those who don’t answer to the people.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., in the majority opinion, said Congress never intended to give such authority to the EPA.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crises of the day,’” he wrote. “(But)  a decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and other states challenging EPA rules the agency said gave it the authority to determine the “best system of emission reduction” for pollution reduction. According to the ruling, the EPA based emissions caps for producers on the concept of changing the fuel used by power providers  from coal to natural gas and renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

The court decided it is the role of Congress to address specific regulations when it grants federal agencies the right to address major political and economic issues.

But Bryan Shuman, director of the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Center in Grand Teton National Park, said passing such decisions off to Congress is a mistake.

Congress has been largely deadlocked in recent years, Shuman said, so the decision will keep the country at a standstill in its efforts to combat climate change.

“It’s unfortunate to have what seemed to be a straightforward tool in the Clean Air Act, to have that ability restricted,” he said.

The court’s three liberal justices argued the decision strips the EPA of its power to effectively respond to the issue.

“Whatever else this court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan. “The stakes here are high. Yet the court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.

CO2 emissions have been on the decline in America since 2007. In 2019, Wyoming ranked 33rd in the nation for total emissions output, a 7.4% decline from the previous year, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

McConnaughey said Wyoming producers have been able to increase their production while decreasing overall emissions thanks to technological upgrades.

Wyoming is still the nation’s largest polluter per capita when it comes to carbon emissions and the largest energy producer per capita. Coal burned by the electricity producers is Wyoming’s largest source of pollution, responsible for 61% of the state’s overall emissions. 

Wyoming is also the nation’s largest coal producer, responsible for 39% of the nation’s total supply.

The Supreme Court’s decision preemptively strikes down regulation that does not yet exist. Former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 and then former President Donald Trump’s plan to relax restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions was struck down by a federal appeals court on the last day of his administration. 

The EPA has not issued any new regulations and the Clean Power Plan has never been reinstated, which would have forced utilities to move away from coal and toward renewable energy to reduce emissions. 

The decision was praised by U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today rightfully reins in unreasonable and unlawful attempts to shut down American power plants and energy production,” Barrasso said. “For years, Democrats have used overreaching Environmental Protection Agency regulations to side-step Congress and the American people to enact their extreme climate agenda.”

“Domestic energy production has been under constant attack by both the (President Joe) Biden and (former President Barak) Obama Administrations, and I’m glad the Supreme Court ruled the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA the power to decide unilaterally what fuels power plants can and cannot use,” Lummis said in her own release. “The EPA under those administrations completely overstepped its authority by circumventing Congress to target oil, natural gas, and coal producers.” 

Also supporting the decision was Gov. Mark Gordon, who had directed the state to join West Virginia in the lawsuit.

“Today’s decision recognizes that innovation, not regulation, is a key to a prosperous future and a healthier environment,” he said. “The legal authority to regulate emissions properly lies with Congress and the states, not an overzealous federal bureaucracy insulated from practical accountability.

However, Shuman, who co-authored a climate study attributing critical changes to Wyoming watersheds to declining snowpack and warming temperatures, said the Supreme Court decision moves the country in the wrong direction.

The summer of 2021 was a record-breaking year for wildfires, with several different fires occurring in Wyoming. Shuman said he personally knew people who had their homes burned down.

“My house is literally on fire and the Supreme Court is telling us we can’t reach for the tools at hand to deal with it,” Shuman said.

The EPA will still regulate the energy industry and be able to implement emission controls at individual power plants. 

Shuman said there needs to be more incentive programs initiated on a national and state level to help curb overall carbon emissions.

“We need to release the free market in their ability to respond,” he said. “We shouldn’t be wanting to over prescribe for the solution. We need to provide the market solutions for solving these problems.”

McConnaughey said his industry would be interested in working with state and federal agencies to develop a framework that could provide incentives to companies that decrease their emissions.

In a Thursday afternoon press release, McConnaughey also said the Supreme Court decision directly pertains to the Bureau of Land Management’s second quarter lease sale.

He said Wyoming producers leased 67,628 acres for $12.9 million at this sale – an amount exceeding the federal taxes paid by 840 Amerians.

The average price per acre was $229.95 and the highest priced lease sold at $6,018 per acre – generating more revenue than the entire 2020 second quarter lease sale. 

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