Carbon pollution from DTE's Belle River Power Plant in St. Clair County, Michigan
Carbon pollution from DTE’s Belle River Power Plant in St. Clair County, Michigan

In a devastating ruling on West Viriginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court has severely constrained the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to limit future greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The decision comes at a time when countries around the world, including the United States, are falling far short of their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This decision will make it harder to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 

In its ruling, the Court advanced the “major questions doctrine,” requiring clear congressional authorization in order for a federal agency to regulate questions of major political and economic significance, turning on its head a long-standing doctrine of deference to an agency’s expertise to interpret ambiguous laws. By using that approach, the Supreme Court has not only crippled federal climate action with respect to regulating carbon emissions from power plants, they have weakened the EPA’s ability to implement climate policy going forward. It is a precedent setting action that could limit the ability of governmental agencies to protect Americans from polluters and bad actors on everything from worker safety to internet privacy protection to contaminated drinking water. 

What This Ruling Means for the Huron River and Our Communities 

In addition to inhibiting urgent climate action at the federal level, this “major questions” ruling could have implications for several concerns facing the Huron River watershed. The regulation of PFAS and other contaminants in drinking water, for example, may now face additional legal challenges. The concurring opinions from Justices Gorsuch and Alito even attempt to provide guidance on how to apply this ruling to other issues.  

Climate action from states and local governments is now more urgent than ever. For many years, states and cities have been leading on environmental protection due to an absence of federal leadership.  Because the harmful effects of emitted greenhouse gas emissions accumulate over time, reducing emissions early is important. We need rapid action. There is no time to lose, and this ruling means we may not be able to rely on our federal government to effectively regulate carbon emissions without explicit statutory permission from congress. 

What We Can Do Now 

There are several upcoming opportunities locally and at the state level to take action. 

  • Resilient Washtenaw is working with county residents to create a collaborative vision for carbon neutrality by 2035. You help by providing feedback. 
  • Oakland County will be initiating a Climate Action Plan this summer. Residents in the area should engage with that process.
  • Learn about the priorities and key goals we’ve identified in the MI Healthy Climate Plan, and hold the state to their goals. 
  • On upcoming ballots, support funding for Ann Arbor’s ambitious A2Zero plan to cut carbon emissions and set an example for cities everywhere. 
  • On upcoming ballots, support land preservation initiatives in Northfield Township, Dexter Township, and Scio Township. 
  • Continue to push energy utilities like DTE and Consumers to provide more energy from renewable sources 
  • Most importantly, continue to vote for elected officials that will support robust climate action. Once they’re in office, hold them to their promises, or vote for someone else who will. 



Daniel Brown, Rebecca Esselman, and Pam Labadie contributed to this post.

To learn more about the urgency of addressing climate change and what we can do about it, read our climate change blogs.