EDGI’s Response to the Supreme Court ruling on West Virginia v. EPA


June 30, 2022 

Contact: Shannan Lenke Stoll, ShannanStoll.EDGI@gmail.com

Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out and enforce the Clean Air Act. In West Virginia v. EPA, it ruled that the defunct Obama Administration Clean Power Plan exceeded the powers granted by the act, arguing the agency lacked “comparative expertise” to determine how the law should be executed without clear legislation from Congress. The ruling invoked a new “major questions doctrine” that agencies lack the ability to determine “major questions” without “clear” statutory authority. The doctrine likely opens a wide array of regulatory actions–by the EPA and other federal agencies–up to legal challenge.

In response, Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) experts released the following statements: 

Emily Pawley, EDGI member and associate professor of history at Dickinson College, said:
“The Supreme Court’s shameful ruling in West Virginia vs EPA sabotages U.S. efforts to respond to the climate crisis, enabling emissions that will drive forest fires, hurricanes, sea level rise, heat waves, and other catastrophes. By forcing the U.S. to fail in its commitments, they also undermine the global climate response. While the majority claims that they are merely restoring power to Congress, they are clearly relying on congressional gridlock to sap the strength of older laws while it blocks the passage of new ones.

Such a move is fundamentally anti-democratic–research shows two-thirds of Americans want stronger government action on climate and 58% demand stronger regulations. They are right to do so; EDGI’s own research shows that consumer-level choices are inadequate: We need regulation to make systemic change. The ruling serves the interests not of the people but of major GHG emitters.

The court’s ruling undercuts the capacity of an already damaged institution. We at EDGI have reported on how EPA is no longer willing and able to adequately enforce existing environmental protection laws. We also documented the significant damage done by the Trump administration to scientific capacity at EPA.  

As such, EDGI is committed to supporting EPA where it can act productively, particularly around environmental rights to know and making data available and usable so that communities can respond to threats to their health.”

Sara Wylie, EDGI member and associate professor of sociology and health science at Northeastern University, said:
“It’s no wonder the state of West Virginia initiated this case to limit EPA’s regulatory authority on climate change. EPA’s own data shows that the emissions of GHGs burned and supplied by just the top 10 polluting companies operating in West Virginia add up to 102,334,860 of tons CO2 equivalent. That’s as much as about 1/5th of all the cars registered in the US as of 2019. Among the companies that operate in West Virginia and will benefit from this ruling are Berkshire Hathaway, the 4th largest GHG emitter globally, and Exxon Mobil, the 10th largest GHG emitter globally.”


About EDGI: The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) analyzes federal environmental data, websites, institutions, and policy. We seek to improve environmental data stewardship and to promote environmental health and environmental justice.