Hudson River Sloop Clearwater condemns Thursday’s West Virginia v. EPA Supreme Court decision to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions. 

While the decision does not eliminate EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emission, it blocks broad rules that would compel utilities to close fossil-fuel plants and switch to renewable energy sources. This will greatly slow the just transition to a green economy and progress in fighting climate change. Clearwater decries this and all other attacks on the Clean Air Act , our health, and efforts to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s biggest emitters.

In 1970, Clearwater founder, Pete Seeger, told the New York Times, “Only the federal government has the power to enact and enforce the laws that are needed.”  Since then, Clearwater has been relentless in advocating for state and federal legislation — including what eventually became the Clean Air Act amendments and other laws of the 1970s and 1980s — that aim to restrict pollution and clean up our air and waterways. As a result of the Clean Air Act’s provisions, unhealthy urban air pollution that plagued cities is largely abated in the United States.

The issue brought by the Plaintiff questioned how severely the EPA can regulate coal-fired power plants, the single largest source of carbon emissions that cause climate change in the United States. By adopting a narrow reading of the Clean Air Act, SCOTUS’ decision cripples  our nation’s ability to reach the Biden administration’s ambitious climate goals, required to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

This unconscionable 6:3 ruling states that Congress must legislate such sweeping mandates. Getting to such outcomes must be augmented by  local environmental coalition building, continuing efforts  that began in the Trump era. Increasing the importance of state-level offices that impact emissions, clean air, and climate change is crucial to the health of our communities. Under the Clean Air Act, states have the option to create their own plans to meet national clean air standards by writing state-specific pollution control plans tailored to local conditions. Despite Thursday’s decision, the EPA still has the authority to regulate pollutants from individual facilities causing pollution at the state level, but those that might target public health outcomes primarily get greenhouse gas reductions as a side benefit. 

At the state level, through regional advocacy coalitions, Clearwater’s fight for climate justice focuses on individual power plants, factories and other facilities that produce pollution in the Hudson Valley –  a battle in which we are no newcomer. In the fight for clean air and clean water, we support the Environmental Bond Act, the Green Amendment to the New York State Constitution, New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, NYS DEC’s denial of the Title V air permit for the proposed Danskammer Fracked Gas Plant and ensuring that decommissioning the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant does not adversely affect disadvantaged communities on the Hudson.

Now more than ever, we must encourage our elected officials to act. Clearwater applauded NY Governor Hochul’s leadership on climate in April, when the administration included a historic $400 million Environmental Protection Fund and a $4 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act in the NYS budget for the 2023 fiscal year. While  this ruling erodes executive authority to transition the U.S. towards a renewable and just energy future, we stand with calls to the highest office in the land to continue to act to slow climate change.

The decision by the Supreme Court impedes the struggle to mitigate the impacts of climate change – impacts already apparent, particularly in historically marginalized communities, and now likely to grow and fester. In the tradition of grassroots advocacy, Clearwater believes ordinary people can work together to fight the threats to our environment. We will continue to work cooperatively with concerned citizens, elected officials, as well as state and federal regulatory agencies to find solutions that address the global climate emergency and produce positive changes to protect our planet.