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SCOTUS just restricted the EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. What does that mean for Vermont?

Alex Brandon
Associated Press File
The Supreme Court moved this week to majorly restrict the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to mandate emissions cuts from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. Vermont doesn't have any in operation, so what does this mean for the Green Mountain State?

The United States Supreme Court issued a decision Thursday that curtails the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

It comes just months after a United Nations Panel warned global powers that they need to act immediately if they want to prevent catastrophic human suffering from climate change.

The decision has big ramifications for the agency's ability to regulate coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.

"It's not as devastating as it might have been some years ago, because the marketplace is already moving away from coal..."
Patrick Parenteau, professor emeritus at Vermont Law School

Vermont doesn't have one within its borders, but does get electricity from the ISO-New England grid. According to the Energy Information Agency, more than half of Vermont's electricity comes from out of state.

There is one coal-fired power plant remaining in New England, located in Bow, NH. Depending on the time of day and season, a substantial amount of the electricity ISO-New England supplies comes from burning natural gas.

And Vermont's Climate Action Plan calls for the state to rapidly electrify transportation and home heating in order to meet the greenhouse gas emissions cuts the state committed to, in statute, in 2020.

So how this might this ruling impact Vermont?

Vermont Law School professor emeritus Patrick Parenteau says at the federal level, the ruling is a major blow to the EPA's authority.

"It's taken away one of EPA's most effective tools for reducing carbon pollution from electric generating facilities, power plants," he said.

The ruling says that any time the EPA proposes a new approach to regulating that will have a major impact on the economy, it needs very specific permission from Congress to do so.

Parenteau says this means Congress would have to pass piecemeal legislation to allow the EPA to take sweeping regulatory action on climate, which is unlikely. He says the ruling raises big questions about the powers federal agencies have to protect citizens from pollutants.

"When you turn to other sources of greenhouse gases, specifically cars and trucks, both on-road vehicles and off road ... I think EPA is on stronger ground legally."
Patrick Parenteau, professor emeritus at Vermont Law School

But Parenteau says the agency does have other legal means of dealing with climate change and carbon pollution.

"When you turn to other sources of greenhouse gases, specifically cars and trucks, both on-road vehicles and off road... I think EPA is on stronger ground legally," he said.

He also points out that the market for renewables has grown in recent years.

"It's not as devastating as it might have been some years ago, because the marketplace is already moving away from coal," Parenteau said.

However, Parenteau says the ruling will determine whether many coal fired power plants in states upwind of Vermont get retired. And that could impact Vermont's compliance with air quality standards.

Local environmental groups react

Local and regional environmental groups condemned the Supreme Court's decision.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council and Vermont Conservation Voters said the Supreme Court is putting the health of all Americans at risk with this decision.

The Conservation Law Foundation condemned the ruling, saying the court acted arbitrarily to limit EPA authority laid out explicitly in the Clean Air Act. The organization joined the appeal of the case to the Supreme Court.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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