The Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate power plant emissions will severely hinder U.S. efforts to slow climate change. Christine Todd Whitman said she was an EPA administrator under George W. Bush for three years and is a New Jersey The first female governor. Whitman said the ruling would also stifle global confidence in U.S. climate action — potentially undermining the resolve of other polluters such as India and China to reduce their own emissions.
in an interview scientific american, Whitman called the court’s ruling a “heavy blow” for the U.S. and predicted it would make regulation more onerous and expensive. Industry lobbyists and political theorists have repeatedly challenged EPA regulations since Republican President Richard Nixon founded the agency in 1970.
Whitman said the EPA must find creative ways to continue its mission, and the primary push for clean energy must come from the states.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
Supreme Court conservatives say the EPA shouldn’t oversee power plants across the board because Congress hasn’t directed the agency to do so. Right or wrong?
The EPA is to blame for many things. We introduced a pollution bill early in the Bush administration that would have set the first real limits on mercury, and we couldn’t even get Congress to hold a hearing on the bill. Assuming that Congress will now suddenly change course and listen to the science and make these critical decisions for our health, I simply don’t understand the Court’s reasoning.To be fair, the agency would rather get Congress to act on climate change than address it strictly through regulation — because regulation always goes to court, takes a long time, and costs a lot of money [to litigate]. Meanwhile, bad actors just keep doing what they’re doing.
Are the courts naive, or calculating that there is no effective statute if left to Congress?
I think it’s the latter. I’m afraid the courts are pushing a political agenda. Instead of taking their cases naturally, they hand down lower court rulings that they can present that will help continue the move toward deregulation. In their ruling, they ignored the Supreme Court’s own precedent. This doesn’t stop with the EPA. You’re going to see it go to the Food and Drug Administration — how we review food safety, drug safety. Energy companies, big industry, big pharma, and more have pushed the court’s agenda.
Does all this make you feel deja vu? You ended up resigning when the Bush administration told you to water down pollution regulations.
that’s right.our [EPA] The scientists told me one thing, and the government told me to set standards in different places. I keep getting numbers from them that are not based on science, but apparently from the utility itself. So I left the institution.
It’s a thankless job.
My definition of success is when you’re attacked by both sides, because then I think I’m right where I need to be.
After the power plant ruling, you tweeted: “The decision issued by the Supreme Court today puts the responsibility for deciding what is best for human health to Congress, which has no idea how to analyze scientific data.” Are we Losing the ability to use science to inform U.S. policy?
Unfortunately, we seem to be, yes.
The EPA lost 672 scientific experts between 2016 and 2020. Could a Biden administration be able to re-attract the talent the EPA needs to operate?
Not quite. The problem is that too many of these agencies need Senate confirmation. They really shouldn’t because they didn’t make a decision that requires that kind of oversight. There are many positions that remain unfilled because they have not yet gone through the hearing process.
If Congress fails to act and the government is stripped of its regulatory powers, who will lead the way?
The future will be in the states. They have to step up their protections now, because Congress won’t do it.Look at New York State: Just Yesterday, Governor [Kathy Hochul] Signed legislation pledging the state to reduce carbon emissions by about 90 percent. States will act.
Are you concerned that court rulings will encourage some red state attorneys general to challenge other EPA regulations?
Absolutely. Once upon a time, a quarter of state attorney general candidates rejected the election. Many of them are running for secretary of state, state attorney general and governor. If you pick a group of very conservative people who want to set things back, they will be able to.
President Joe Biden’s EPA administrator Michael Reagan says Supreme Court ruling ‘disappointing’ but ‘it won’t get us out of the game’ and ‘we will use all the tools in our toolbox’ to fight carbon pollution . What are some of these tools?
The ruling will allow them to do it piecemeal through smaller, precise regulations than they can do through a more comprehensive regulatory approach.
What legal tools can EPA use to continue to perform its duties?
I’m not a lawyer; I’ll leave it to the legal department. Trust me, they will find a way to fix this. The current White House has rightly made climate change the responsibility of every agency — for example, changing housing requirements, as we’ve done in New Jersey and New York, making buildings more energy efficient and appliances more energy efficient. These are things that must be done.
Will the court’s ruling have a chilling effect on the EPA’s willingness to even come up with ambitious new regulations, knowing they could be struck down?
This could have a chilling effect on recruiting new young scientists to the institution. But the people who are already there are committed professionals who will continue to do everything in their power to move the mission forward.
Under the Paris Agreement, the United States pledged to halve emissions by 2030. How likely is it that we will now be able to deliver on that promise?
Unlikely. It’s really disturbing that the rest of the world is starting to wash our hands of us, because it means that other polluters like India and China are going to say, “Well, if America doesn’t do this, we won’t be able to.” This The decision made everyone hold back. Other countries have no confidence in us.Let’s make any impact while participating in these COPs [global climate change] There are more and more problems with the meeting.
Opponents of regulation sometimes argue that it is bad for the economy. But wouldn’t the industry want clear policies from the government that would give it the confidence to make long-term investments?
Absolutely. This is where the court decision is frustrating. The industry doesn’t want to have to meet the regulatory standards of 50 different states and three territories. If they have one set of rules here and another there – it’s a nightmare. It’s very expensive, which means the product costs more. It’s unbelievable. You have a supposedly conservative Supreme Court; you would think they wanted to save people money, let alone save lives! It will be several years before we fully understand the depth and depth of this impact. In many ways, it was a physical blow.
So where is the EPA going?
EPA will continue to do what it can. So will good actors in the industry. We cannot leave our commitments, our responsibilities. But we will have to get more creative in the future.