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Liam Denning

The Supreme Court Prefers Climate Policy to Be Expensive

The EPA is no longer allowed to provide the kind of systemwide regulation that could efficiently lower greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

The EPA is going to have a harder time dealing with these things.

The EPA is going to have a harder time dealing with these things.

Photographer: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If it feels as if the Supreme Court is hellbent on dividing us further, Thursday’s ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s powers raised that feeling to whole new level.

In effect, the 6-3 decision constrains the EPA in regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from stationary sources — power plants in this particular case. At the heart of this is something called the “best system of emissions reduction,” or BSER. The Clean Power Plan promulgated by the EPA during President Barack Obama’s administration determined that the best way to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants — their BSER — was to replace them with natural gas or renewable power. Efficiency improvements or nascent technologies such as carbon capture wouldn’t accomplish enough. Opponents claimed the EPA, by effectively forcing a restructuring of the country’s power-plant fleet, had overstepped its bounds under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court now backs that view.