‘Regressive and harmful’: PRI slams US Supreme Court ruling on EPA

New York City Comptroller joins condemnation of decision by conservative justices to limit powers of environmental agency.

The US Supreme Court’s decision to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants is a “regressive and harmful step”, the Principles for Responsible Investment said on Thursday.

“Climate change is real and investors bound by fiduciary duties don’t have the ability to ignore it,” Gregory Hershman, PRI’s head of US policy, said in a statement. “Restricting the EPA’s efforts to address the issue limits our ability to approach climate change as a collective challenge and creates significant undue risk at a time when a just and orderly transition to a net–zero economy has never been more vital.”

The EPA began regulating GHG emissions from power plants in 2011 under the Clean Air Act. In West Virginia v Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court ruled that “clear congressional authorisation” would be required for such a move and that this had not been obtained. As with other recent controversial rulings by the court, it was backed by all six conservative Supreme Court justices and opposed by their three liberal counterparts.

“[This] is a regressive and harmful step, which in practice prevents the federal government from implementing a national policy on climate change,” Hershman said. Noting that investors recognise the threat of climate change “and are stepping up to the plate to facilitate a systemic response”, he issued an urgent call for a bipartisan political movement “to support these investor efforts”.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander also slammed the Supreme Court’s decision, describing it as “yet another blow by our nation’s highest court with far-reaching impacts for our collective future”.

“We cannot confront the scale of the risks the climate crisis poses to our communities and the global economy without strong, concerted action by both the federal government and the private sector,” he said. “[This] decision undermines the federal government’s ability to set critical standards for meaningful reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions and to provide for a just transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Lander added that the ruling “underscores how important it is that New York City continues to lead on climate”. He vowed to continue working to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2040 across the city’s three state funds, the Teachers’ Retirement System, New York City Employees’ Retirement System and Board of Education Retirement System.

Nonprofits also condemned Thursday’s ruling. Danielle Fugere, president of US shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, said it had become clear that the Supreme Court “is now untethered from both precedent and reason”. “It is difficult to fathom what drives the majority members of the court to tear down the very systems that have made life livable, the sky clear, and waters clean,” she said.