The climate crisis is becoming more of a concern than ever before. With global temperatures rising, it is no surprise that certain regions are experiencing the effects of climate change, such as melting ice caps, more severe natural disasters and extreme droughts.
The U.S. EPA is well-known for establishing regulations and requirements for companies and individuals. It is mostly responsible for regulating the manufacturing, processing, distribution and use of chemicals and other potentially harmful pollutants. However, does it have the authority to regulate carbon emissions generated and emitted by the nation’s energy sector?
The EPA’s Role in Limited Carbon Emissions
To understand the role the EPA plays in regulating carbon emissions, it is critical to know which laws are in place that give the EPA this authority. First, look at the Clean Air Act (CAA).
The CAA is one of the country’s most influential, modern environmental laws to date. Since its inception in 1975, it has undergone numerous changes to keep up with the evolving climate.
At one point, Section 111 of the act allowed the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants and establish standards for these facilities. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the energy sector generates 28% of GHG emissions in the U.S. That number is only expected to increase as the country continues to rely on fossil fuels.
Through the CAA, the EPA has issued regulations across industries to try and limit emissions. For example, industries using diesel engine generators contribute particulate matter to the atmosphere. As a result, the EPA stepped in to regulate the use of generators and how many pollutants they can emit.
Recent Supreme Court Ruling in 2022
In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled the EPA could no longer set state-level caps or standards on climate-changing GHG emissions from existing power plants. Based on the court’s ruling, the U.S. Congress now has the power and authority to decide how energy is created in the country.
This was a controversial decision, particularly in the eyes of climate activists and environmental groups. Additionally, the decision pushes back against the Biden administration’s goals to reduce GHG emissions and transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. As stated above, the energy sector is responsible for 28% of total GHG emissions, just behind the number one source — the transportation sector.
Ultimately, this Supreme Court decision is considered a step backward regarding climate crisis regulation. Under the ruling, the EPA is now limited in controlling the rising emissions causing global warming and, thus, climate change.
How the EPA is Reducing Emissions
Despite limitations on reducing emissions in the energy sector, the EPA is still working to implement regulations and standards in other industries. It recently finalized more stringent requirements for specific vehicles in the transportation industry, like trucks, delivery vans, buses and those considered “heavy-duty.”
With the new regulations, the EPA’s goal is to cut down on smog and soot generation by requiring heavy-duty vehicles to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides. It requires these vehicles to reduce emissions by 50% by 2045.
Some other climate-focused regulations are only in effect in certain states and not at the federal level. Therefore, the EPA can only do so much to regulate emissions.
For example, the EPA restored California’s ability to set strict car requirements for its citizens. The state’s authority was in place before President Trump came into office. Still — under the Biden administration — the EPA could reinstate California’s authority.
The Future of the EPA in Combating Climate Change
With the Supreme Court’s new ruling, it seems like the CAA is no longer as effective as it used to be. However, the EPA still has the authority to regulate certain aspects of the industrial emissions causing global warming and, in turn, climate change. As more time goes on, changes to legislation under the Biden administration may allow the EPA to play a more significant role in limiting emissions to ensure a prosperous future for upcoming generations.
About the author: Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co