FILE – Steam billows from a coal-fired power plant Nov. 18, 2021, in Craig, Colo. The Supreme Court on Thursday, June 30, 2022, limited how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. By a 6-3 vote, with conservatives in the majority, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
The Supreme Court, in West Virginia v. EPA, has tied the hands of the EPA scientists and engineers we represent, halting any action by EPA to reduce greenhouse gasses from the most destructive unchecked source — existing power plants. We are already seeing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis around the globe: from communities on coasts and islands being displaced, to more frequent extreme natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, and wildfires, to droughts and crop destruction. And the latest report from the UN’s scientific body shows that we have so little time to take action to avoid even more extreme impacts from a rapidly warming planet.
There is no more time for hand-holding or a deep-dive analysis of the Supreme Court’s decision — we need action, now! As EPA workers who are acutely aware of what is at stake if we lose the battle, we call on the Biden administration to immediately develop a plan that reduces emissions and helps communities address the impacts of the climate crisis.
Now, more than ever before, we have seen how an extreme and well-funded minority has pushed its deregulatory agenda to tie the hands of EPA scientists to fight pollution and to protect air, water and our families from the climate crisis. In light of this we are urging the Biden administration and the EPA to listen to workers throughout ongoing contract negotiations. We need a strong contract that will uphold science itself, and support hiring and retaining the best scientists and engineers possible so we can do everything in our power to protect human health and the environment.
The U.S. is the world’s wealthiest nation, the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gasses, and present day is the second-largest emitter. So we have an obligation to assist communities most impacted by the climate emergency.
While the Biden administration wants to be seen as a champion on climate, it has been and continues to be, slow to champion any comprehensive plan to address the climate emergency. The Biden administration cannot tout the need for ambitious and just climate policies on one hand, and then fail to consider the most cost-effective GHG reducing policies on the other. We need the political will to make the adjustments we need after the West Virginia decision.
Some are focused on the fact that the decision in West Virginia leaves intact only a portion of EPA’s authority to tackle CO2. Thanks to decades of work by researchers, some of whom are members of our union, the world has the science, the technologies, and much of the engineering prowess needed to scale down CO2 emissions and ensure a livable planet. We need to use that work to enable EPA scientists and engineers to squeeze as much GHG control out of EPA’s authority as we possibly can. And that requires the most prepared, trained and mobilized environmental workforce in the world. And it also demands the kind of expertise EPA workers bring to the table. We are trained experts in the authority granted to EPA under the Clean Air Act and are in the best position to advise the nation about the options left to control GHG after West Virginia.
The costs of creating more support for EPA workers in their contract will be minimal, and will be well worth it — the new social science section of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report asserts that failing to act on climate change will incur enormous economic costs, and passing climate policy has the potential to lift people out of poverty. It is a necessary investment to make in order to protect the future of our planet and our people, and the benefits far outweigh the costs.
The Biden administration must do the right thing before the end of his term, by signing a strong and equitable contract with EPA workers to defend decades of research and science, and provide the EPA with the resources to hire and retain the best staff possible.
The West Virginia v. EPA SCOTUS decision will undeniably make our mission of protecting human health and the environment more difficult, but this is not the end of our fight for a more sustainable planet and environmental justice. We will continue to fight and work for a better planet for our children and generations to come.
Nicole Cantello is the president of AFGE Local 704 and EPA lawyer.