By ELLEN KNICKMEYER Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 500 days into his presidency, Joe Biden’s hope of saving the Earth from the most devastating effects of climate change may not be dead.
But it is not far from that.
A Supreme Court ruling Thursday not only limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate weather pollution from power plants, but also suggests the court is poised to block further efforts by Biden and federal agencies to limit the climate-destroying gases emitted by oil, gas and coal.
It’s a blow to Biden’s commitment to cut emissions in the few years scientists say remain to avert worse, deadlier levels of global warming. And it’s a sign, to Democrats at home and their allies abroad, of the dwindling options left for Biden to reverse the legacy of President Donald Trump, who flouted the science of climate change. Trump’s three Supreme Court appointees provided half of the yes votes in Thursday’s 6-3 ruling.
After the ruling, a veteran Democratic lawmaker acknowledged that he also saw no hope of Congress producing meaningful climate legislation. Foreign allies Biden once spoke of leading a global clean energy transformation wonder if the United States can even lead itself.
And in a Houston neighborhood entering hurricane season, a man who had spent four decades standing up for black communities and other communities of color and the poorest communities hardest hit by pollution and the heat, cold, flooding and the record storms of climate change reacted to the ruling. as many others did on Thursday, saying it was now all up to Biden to act, and act big.
“This is real,” said Robert Bullard, an academic who became a pioneer in what became the US environmental justice movement, of multiplying natural disasters, the kind that scientists say are increasingly influenced by global warming, destroying cities in the vulnerable US Gulf of Mexico.
“Those communities that have been flooded … some of those communities still have blue tarps on their houses,” Bullard said. “So I don’t think the Supreme Court and some of our elected officials are talking about the urgency of where we are in terms of our climate.”
The dismay at the ruling expressed by many among what is the majority of people in the United States who say they care deeply about climate change reflected that this was just the latest setback to Biden’s initial promises to cut emissions.
A closely divided Congress has already handed Biden the worst climate defeat of his term yet when two Democrats, including coal state lawmaker Joe Manchin, joined Senate Republicans in refusing to pass Biden’s Build Back Better package.
The climate portions of the legislation were meant to drive America’s transformation into a land of electric cars, clean industry, and energy-efficient buildings. Biden was able to make progress on some smaller parts of his proposal, including electric car chargers.
And this year, in a development as dangerous to Biden’s early climate hopes as the Supreme Court ruling, a global oil and gas supply crisis has sent gas prices to record highs. It has fueled inflation and voter anger against Biden and potentially other Democrats.
The energy deficit left Biden scrambling for more oil and gas. It’s also unclear if he still feels he has the political capital to lead the US move into renewables as decisively as he promised as a candidate and in his first months in office.
The ruling left policy pundits, lawmakers and ordinary people saying that Biden, Democrats and climate-conscious Republicans still have a few avenues left to boost climate efforts.
One is ambitious and cunning executive action, if Biden dares, to push through carefully targeted emissions reduction measures.
A second is climate action from California and the other blue states that earlier took action to challenge Trump’s climate pushbacks in court.
A third option is an argument that Biden and the Democrats are increasingly pitching to voters: elect enough Democrats in the midterms to allow Congress to pass laws that prevent rollbacks by conservatives, in Congress and on the Supreme Court.
Biden has pledged to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emission-free energy sector by 2035.
Biden offered no guarantees of success in his comments after the court ruling.
“While this decision risks damaging our nation’s ability to keep our air clean and combat climate change, I will not refrain from using my legal authorities to protect public health and address the climate crisis,” he said in a statement.
His team would “find ways that we can, under federal law, continue to protect Americans” from pollution and climate change, he said.
The Biden administration can still dictate a tough rule on carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions in general, and it should do so quickly, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
As it is, “there is no easy congressional fix to this mess,” Whitehouse said, blaming previous court rulings on political donations for “big dark polluting money” that he says dominates politics now. .
The Supreme Court ruling came as Biden was enjoying a successful meeting with NATO allies, who have rallied behind the United States’ support to confront Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After Biden’s first proclamations at summits early in his term that “America is back!”, the Supreme Court setback underscored to allies just how vulnerable the US president remains on the front lines. internally, including when it comes to meeting climate commitments.
When the ruling was released, Biden envoy John Kerry was flying after an ocean conference in Portugal, still working toward global and country-by-country commitments to cut emissions.
Domestic climate setbacks have helped slow the initial global momentum for climate gains. They have weakened US influence as Kerry pushes countries, including China, to move away from coal and other harmful fossil fuels, something Biden had promised the US would lead by example.
Among allies abroad, the Supreme Court ruling could surprise America’s transatlantic partners like few other developments, said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The climate decision somehow “may have a broader impact at least on the European population that this is a country that, A: can’t get things done and B: is going in a really weird direction domestically,” Bergmann said. .
AP writers Nancy Benac and Jennifer McDermott contributed to this report.
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