We at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) join the loud chorus of voices across the country opposing the United States Supreme Court’s June 30th decision in the West Virginia v. EPA climate case as both illogical and ill-advised.
The high court chose to hamstring the Biden Administration’s efforts to meet our climate goals. The majority turned its back on the wishes of the American people, the overwhelming majority of whom support more aggressive national action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, not less.
The decision will effectively prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from incorporating proven tools — such as energy efficiency — to reduce pollution from any forthcoming power plant carbon rule. That will make future standards more difficult and more expensive to achieve.
The Obama-era Clean Power Plan was designed to drive economy-wide efficiency improvements as one of the primary tools to clean up power plants. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, efficiency alone could get most states at least halfway to compliance, while saving consumers as much as $7 billion — reducing the average retail electricity bill on the order of 17 percent.
Instead, the Supreme Court instructed the EPA to focus directly on smokestacks rather than approach the electricity system as a whole. There are fewer tools to directly reduce carbon pollution at a power plant — and they are more costly and likely less effective than promoting a broad shift to efficiency and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. As a result, this ruling undercuts the lead federal agency’s long-acknowledged use of the congressional authority provided by the Clean Air Act to ensure the air we breathe is healthy, to protect the health of our kids and our communities, and to safeguard our collective future.
As our region suffers through a summer already plagued by soaring heat waves, a record megadrought, devastating wildfires, and a medley of extreme weather disasters, Westerners understand firsthand the urgency of this all-hands-on-deck situation. The climate crisis demands that we make ample use of all the tools in the proverbial toolbox as well as harness all of our creativity and ingenuity to create new ones.
New climate policy should focus on maximizing energy efficiency and cleaning up the electric grid, while electrifying our transportation, building, and industrial sectors as much as possible. Action by the U.S. Congress, such as the investments proposed in the original Build Back Better Act, is urgently necessary to accelerate progress. We urge Congress to find a path forward on climate as soon as possible. However, we don’t have time to sit back and wait for Congress to overcome its deep divisions, as the Supreme Court suggests we do. Instead, we must look toward President Biden for bold executive action, and toward states, local governments, business leaders, and civic institutions for leadership.
Fortunately, many states and communities are already rising to this challenge. Here in the Southwest, we can draw hope from Colorado’s efforts to clean up its electric grid, as well as its most recent legislative session, where legislators adopted a landmark green building codes law and invested hundreds of millions in free transit, smart land use incentives, electric school buses, and other air quality and climate pollution solutions. Both Nevada and New Mexico recently joined Colorado and 15 other states in adopting the Clean Car Standards to reduce pollution and spur electrification within the transportation sector. And cities like Denver are embracing bold policies to incentivize all-electric buildings and e-bike use.
Additionally, states and communities across the nation have the opportunity to harness the unprecedented flow of federal resources under the bipartisan infrastructure law and COVID stimulus measures to invest in climate and clean energy solutions.
While disappointing, we must not be deterred by the West Virginia v. EPA decision. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court plays politics with the planet’s future, we must double down on our pursuit of all available strategies to slash GHG pollution, including pressing decision makers at all levels of government — from Congress and federal agencies to Governors and state legislatures to the local communities we live in — to take up the mantle of urgent, aggressive climate action.