The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions means that — at least for now — such efforts will be undertaken by state governments.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 9 a.m. to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency.
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Gov. Jay Inslee slammed the court’s decision in a news conference, condemning it as a “stunning reversal of environmental law” that “took a wrecking ball to the ability of the federal government to restrain pollution.” 

Inslee said Washington must redouble its efforts to fight climate change and reduce pollution in the absence of federal action. 

“We are sounding the alarm and we’re proud of what we’ve done, but this decision makes it clear that we’ll have to accelerate our efforts when it comes to climate change and pollution,” he said. 

In Washington, state laws now in place seek to phase out the use of fossil fuels in power production, increase the use of low- or zero-carbon motor fuels and develop a cap-and-invest program to reduce greenhouse gas pollution over time.

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Ongoing policy efforts — like the development of the Climate Commitment Act and the Clean Fuel Standard, as well as plans to shut down a TransAlta coal-fired power plant in Centralia by 2025 — will continue, Inslee said. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and California Gov. Gavin Newsom also signed a written statement with Inslee to comment on the ruling.

“We are deeply disappointed in this regressive decision, but it only hardens our resolve to act with the boldness and urgency the climate crisis demands,” they wrote. “At a time when we’re seeing devastating droughts, wildfires, and storms become the norm, the Supreme Court has sided with polluters at the expense of the American people. This ruling makes clear that the actions of governors and state legislatures are more important than ever before.”

By a 6-3 vote, with conservatives in the majority, the court said the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming.

“I hope that the EPA will be able to sift through the wreckage of their authority and salvage some solutions to regulate greenhouse pollution from the power sector, but we can’t wait on them to do that,” state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, chair of the House Environment and Energy Committee, said Thursday.

Fitzgibbon said he hopes Congress can pass a reconciliation bill that invests in tax credits for electric vehicles, clean energy generation and heat pumps.

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“We can’t wait for the federal government because they have proven themselves incapable, in this moment, of rising to this challenge,” he said.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray said that she is working to deliver federal legislation that will put unprecedented amounts in climate action and clean energy.

“Today’s ruling is yet another example of Republican-backed Justices rewriting the law to fit a far-right extremist agenda that is deeply out of touch with the mainstream American public—the consequences of this decision belong to every Republican politician who fought to appoint these judges,” Murray said in a statement. “With the Clean Air Act and the measures since, Congress passed laws ensuring our communities had clean air to breathe and protecting our environment. The court takes the place of Congress and the Executive Branch in how it can and can’t fight climate change.”

At the state level, there is a deep political divide on climate action. Many states controlled by Republicans have balked at passing laws to control greenhouse gas emissions. A Washington Republican leader praised the Thursday Supreme Court decision.

“Today’s opinion is about the rule of law. It is up to Congress to authorize new regulations that the EPA has been implementing on its own, especially regulations that carry billions of dollars in economic ramifications,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, in a written statement. “Executive-branch officials don’t get to do this themselves. It’s entirely appropriate for the Supreme Court to reinforce the separation of powers between the branches of government.”

However, Washington’s Democratic majority, like many other states with Democratic control, has moved ahead with legislation. In recent years the state has passed one of the nation’s most comprehensive sets of laws with the support of Inslee, who has been a longtime advocate of governmental action to reduce greenhouse gases, and made climate change a central issue in his unsuccessful 2020 campaign for the presidency.

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Those laws include the 2019 Clean Energy Transformation Act, which committed the state to achieve an electricity supply free of greenhouse gases by 2045, while the Clean Fuel Standard passed in 2021 requires fuel providers to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels to 20% below 2017 levels by 2038.

The Climate Commitment Act, which was signed into law by Inslee in May 2021, establishes among other things a carbon trading market or “cap and invest” program in which participation is compulsory for entities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of direct or imported carbon dioxide each year. The program is mandated by law to launch in January.

Also, Washington is required by law to reduce its carbon emissions 45% by 2030, 70% by 2040 and 95% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. The state is required to eliminate the last 5% through carbon reduction or removal.

“To all of those critics who say that a state is too small to make a difference, this is a ferocious and categorical rejection of that idea,” said state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, who was the architect of much of the state climate policy in the Legislature as chairman of the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee. “It has never mattered more than it does right now for states to lead … and make climate action happen.”

Carlyle noted that action on the climate front also happened in states where legislatures have opted not to pass regulatory laws and without federal action. As solar and wind power have become more competitive in cost, increasing numbers of coal plants have shut down across the country. He said these market forces have resulted in some of the most substantive reductions in emissions.

“There is hope,” Carlyle said.

Some environmentalists on Thursday cautioned against portraying the Supreme Court decision as a sweeping ruling forbidding federal action on regulating carbon emissions from power plants or other sources.

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Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said that the federal government could still seek to impose limits on individual plants. He contends the ruling is specific to the Obama administration’s approach to regulating carbon emissions that had the EPA push to develop state or regional plans to reduce carbon emissions.

The Biden administration has not sought to revive the Obama administration regulatory plan, so Schaeffer called the Supreme Court decision an advisory ruling on an already dead plan.

Even without an EPA plan to crack down on power plant pollution, President Joe Biden has sought to fashion a much more aggressive federal policy on curbing greenhouse gas emissions than his predecessor, who in the past referred to climate change as a hoax.

Under Biden, the federal government has taken many steps on the climate front, including stepped-up federal funding to research new clean energy technologies.

A federal infrastructure bill that cleared Congress last year included more funding for nuclear power development, and Biden also has backed a massive expansion of federal tax credits to speed up the U.S. transition away from fossil fuels. But that legislation, included in the Build Back Better Act, has yet to make it through Congress.

The EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that he and leaders at the EPA will continue to push forward on climate and health protections.

“Make no mistake: We will never waver from that responsibility,” Regan said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.