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The Biden administration has to change course on climate change after Court ruling


We start this hour with this week's Supreme Court ruling on President Biden's plan to reduce greenhouse gases from power plants. The court said the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped the authority given it by Congress. Biden called the decision devastating, but he's still promising to use every tool he has to fight climate change. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins us now. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, morning, Melissa.

BLOCK: We know that the president's efforts to fight climate change got stuck in Congress last year, and now we have the Supreme Court delivering a defeat. How significant is this ruling?

DETROW: Well, as you mentioned, President Biden called it devastating. A lot of people in the White House were very upset. But over the course of the week, the thing I've kept hearing is that they all said this could have been a lot worse. In the short term, it's kind of a mixed bag, and here's why. The Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had previously gone too far when it tried to shift the American power sector away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. But the ruling was really specific to one rule that the EPA tried to do several years ago. And again, it could have been a lot worse. Biden's top domestic climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, told NPR yesterday that the court did not altogether eliminate the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases, and that's important.


GINA MCCARTHY: It doesn't mean that EPA isn't standing ready right now to move forward with regulations that will drive down greenhouse gas pollutions, whether we do it directly or through other measures like tackling other pollutants that always are married with greenhouse gases when they're emitted.

DETROW: But McCarthy and other regulators in the Biden administration are well aware now that they're going to have to be a lot more careful moving forward, because the court sent a strong signal here that it's going to be applying a lot more scrutiny than before to EPA and other agencies.

BLOCK: And what's the rationale behind that?

DETROW: So over the years, Congress has always given agencies broad power to enact regulations, and previous court rulings have said that was OK, that agencies had the expertise, and that they should take Congress's broad directions and apply them to current challenges. But the court's underlying legal reasoning this week in this ruling was that Congress needs to be specific about what it is allowing agencies to do, and that Congress had not specifically told the EPA that it could do this, that it could regulate emissions from existing power plants in the way that they tried to do, even though the EPA, you know, has organized around the broad authority it has under the Clean Air Act for decades now. So that is making regulators a lot more careful. But again, going forward, most of the administration's authority to deal with power plants still remains. Emissions regulations on cars and trucks to lower greenhouse gases are still in place, too. But this is an area that largely depends on executive branch regulations. You know, Democrats control the House and Senate right now. They haven't gotten a new climate bill through. They certainly won't if Republicans take control of the House or Senate next year because Republicans are just widespread opposed to climate regulation.

BLOCK: Well, given all of that, Scott, the president has pledged that he will cut carbon emissions in half by the end of the decade. Is that even possible?

DETROW: It's going to be a lot more difficult now for a lot of reasons. The Environmental Defense Fund has said that to meet this goal, emissions from power plants have to be cut by 80%. That is a huge shift. The Biden administration has really been trying to incentivize the power sector to do the things it wants to do over the long term a lot more quickly. There was a lot of money in the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed last year to do that. But the Biden White House has really been trying hard to get an even bigger bill passed. It has been stalled for the last few years. And you're going to hear a lot of conversation over the next few months about trying to get something through Congress by the end of this year.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks so much.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.