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The Supreme Court rules the EPA can't set CO2 limits for existing power plants


The Supreme Court is out with its final decisions of the term, and they are on two big cases. In a 6-3 decision, it ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to set limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants. However, in a 5-4 decision, the court sided with the Biden administration in a major immigration case, saying the administration was within its rights to terminate the Trump administration policy known as Remain in Mexico. We're joined by two NPR correspondents to talk through these - both of these decisions and their implications. We're going to start with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Nina, can you walk us through the basics of the decision on the EPA?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: This was all about coal-fired power plants and how you regulate them to try to get to the problem of climate change, 'cause it's the major source of the kinds of gases - that leak greenhouse gases that basically create climate change. So the court said that all of the regulations that the Obama administration had put in effect, which were not actually specifically at issue in this case, and even any other regulations involving climate change - they cannot be the subject of regulation by the EPA because they were not considered as targeted at climate change at the time that the law was enacted decades ago. And it said that any agency that does something this big and this new and transformative, like addressing climate change - their regulations are going to be presumptively invalid unless Congress has specifically authorized regulating in this sphere. And Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for a 6 to 3 court. Justice Kagan wrote for the dissenters.

MARTÍNEZ: Nina, what does this mean then for the future of President Biden's climate agenda and actually that of future presidents, too?

TOTENBERG: It could mean a lot because already the Biden administration has started policies across the government aimed at curtailing climate change. And all of those may now be in doubt from regulations at the Securities and Exchange Commission telling investors that they - the companies that they have to disclose to investors if there's a climate change problem to rules at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and I assume much more that I don't know about yet, but we all will.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. The court's three liberal justices dissented. What did they have to say?

TOTENBERG: Justice Kagan, writing for the dissenters, said, today the court strips the EPA of the power Congress gave it to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time. It deprives EPA of power needed and the power granted to curb the emission of greenhouse gases. Whatever else this court may know, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change.

MARTÍNEZ: Finally, Nina, we've just heard that the court is going to hear a very controversial case next term on election law. Can you briefly tell us about that?

TOTENBERG: It's a case from North Carolina, and the court will examine the so-called independent state legislature doctrine. Basically, it's a theory that could reshape how we conduct federal elections. The doctrine argues that state legislatures have independent power, not subject to review by the state courts or state constitutions, that the state legislatures are - have unfettered discretion to set election rules that even, as I said, are at odds with their own state constitutions. It would be a huge deal because it would potentially reshape how we do everything and give a free hand to state legislatures to do extreme partisan gerrymandering, even more than they already do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.