West Virginia v. EPA

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: June 30, 2022
  • Case #: 20–1530
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Roberts, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined. Gorsuch and Alito joined and filed a concurrence. Kagan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer and Sotomayor, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act should be narrowly construed to regulate individual power plants. The CPP's scheme to create generation shifting for the nation's power sector as a whole is not within its authority under Section 111(d).

The Court reviewed the EPA's authority under Section 111(d) to regulate existing power plants. In response to the designation of carbon dioxide as an air pollutant, the EPA enacted the Clean Power Plan ("CPP") under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act ("CAA") to address carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants by creating guidelines for emission limits by determining the Best System of Emissions Reduction ("BSER"). The CPP broadened the meaning of "system" from the individual sources or plants, to the energy sector as a whole in order to achieve greater emissions reductions. The CPP set out three measures, or "building blocks," existing plants could take to reduce emissions. Building blocks two and three were based on a generation shifting scheme which would essentially force existing operators to adopt or transition to new sources of power generation in order to meet the stricter emission reduction levels. The issue is whether the Section 111(d) gives the EPA the authority under to, “restructure the nation’s energy mix.” Considering the implications of the CPP the Court found that this was a major question and they would determine if CAA provided "clear congressional authorization" to the EPA implement its CPP. The Court reasoned that under Section 111 (d) Congress did not authorize the EPA to create BSER standards to apply to the nation's electricity generation. The Court held that “the best system of emission reduction,” in Section 111(d) should be narrowly construed to focus on the performance of individual sources. Therefore, the EPA's approach to achieve emission reductions by improving the overall power system was not within its authority under Section 111(d). The appellate court's conclusion that, "the statute could reasonably be read to encompass generation shifting" was Reversed and Remanded.

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