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Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

10 Climate Actions Democrats Can Take After West Virginia v. EPA

Democrats have the power to act on climate now. They must use it, and show the country they understand the stakes of this moment.

Following the Supreme Court's litany of disastrous decisions this summer, including the revocation of fundamental rights to bodily autonomy, the Court’s illegitimate extremist majority has now undermined all Americans’ access to a clean and safe environment with today’s West Virginia v. EPA decision. The ruling undermines federal climate action to boost fossil fuel companies’ profits.

But just as progressives are emphasizing opportunities to cement rights in the wake of the Court’s Roe reversal, we must understand that the West Virginia decision is not the last word in the fight against climate pollution. The Biden administration, and Democrats in Congress and state governments, can still wield a great number of policy tools to fight the climate crisis—including regulating pollution under the Clean Air Act. Democrats have the power to act on climate now. They must use it, and show the country they understand the stakes of this moment. This memo lays out 10 next steps Democrats can and must take in the wake of the West Virginia v. EPA ruling.

1. Pass Climate Investments Through Budget Reconciliation

President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must get a reconciliation climate investment bill passed. The House already passed a package of climate investments that would cut carbon pollution, fight inflation, and help transition the country to a 100% clean energy economy. As negotiations progress in the Senate, the president and Majority Leader Schumer should push for  final reconciliation package in the Senate containing a full suite of investments including clean energy tax credits, state climate pollution reduction grants, a greenhouse gas reduction fund, environmental and climate justice block grants, and more. The reconciliation package is the centerpiece of the Biden climate agenda, and a major contributor to the president’s pollution reduction goals; Democratic leaders need to act now and get a deal done.

2. Finalize Clean Air Act Standards to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Pollution from New and Existing Power Plants

While the West Virginia decision limits EPA’s authority to set power plant regulations similar to the Clean Power Plan, significant authority remains. President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan must act quickly to set new rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions using EPA’s remaining authority. Sections 111b and 111d of the Clean Air Act clearly allow EPA to regulate pollution from new and existing power plants, and EPA must act quickly to finalize new rules that address one of the largest sources of carbon pollution. Despite today’s ruling, the Biden Administration cannot back down.

There is a suite of other rules EPA must enact to cut pollution from the power sector, as well. That includes updating the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone and small particulate matter.

See 100CleanPower.com for more on the comprehensive, multi-pollutant agenda the EPA must pursue.

3. Phase Out New Federal Fossil Fuel Leasing on Public Lands and Waters

President Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland must swiftly and legally phase out all new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters—starting with no new offshore leasing in Interior’s draft five-year plan that will be released this week. The federal leasing program is a major contributor to climate pollution: lifecycle pollution from fossil fuels extracted from federal lands are responsible for nearly a quarter of U.S. carbon emissions since 2005. And more giveaways to the U.S. fossil fuel industry will do nothing to address high gas prices, since oil prices are set by a volatile global market. In addition to ending new offshore leasing, there are several immediate steps the administration can take to wind down federal fossil fuel leasing, including rejecting new onshore lease sales that don’t align with the President’s climate commitments, denying the permit for ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in the Western Arctic, and reissuing a full coal leasing moratorium.

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4. Incorporate Race Into the Administration’s Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool

President Biden and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory must include race as a factor in the administration’s final Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool. The tool is designed to map the historically disadvantaged communities hit first and worst by environmental disasters. The map, which incorporates a wide set of variables, would in turn guide implementation of the president’s commitment to target 40% of climate investments to frontline communities. But the draft tool omitted race as a factor, leaving out the single most influential variable in determining the concentration of environmental harms. To ensure the tool’s efficacy, and begin directing federal funds to the communities most in need, Chair Mallory must ensure race’s inclusion in the final tool.

5. Release New Standards For 100% Clean Cars and Trucks

President Biden and Administrator Regan must develop new Clean Air Act standards to accelerate a nationwide transition to 100% zero-emission cars and trucks. EPA will retain Clean Air Act authority to regulate conventional tailpipe pollution from cars, trucks, and other vehicles. To confront this pollution, Administrator Regan should promulgate ambitious new emissions standards that would limit air pollution and advance electrification for all vehicle classes. The EPA is currently developing a “Clean Trucks Rule” for heavy-duty vehicles beginning in Model Year 2027. In that rule, Administrator Regan must continue to protect vulnerable communities by fully granting California’s waiver for vehicle emissions, which for decades has allowed California to set more stringent vehicle emissions standards than EPA. Over a dozen other states have also adopted these advanced standards, which better protect overburdened communities and will help accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.  The administration must also promulgate new standards for light-duty vehicles (cars), beginning in Model Years 2027 and beyond, that accelerate the transition to 100% zero-emission vehicles.

6. Pass State 100% Clean Electricity Standards

Governors, state legislators, and public utility commissioners throughout the country must enact requirements for 100% carbon-free electricity. For years, states have led the way in innovative clean energy policies that help confront the climate crisis. Today, 22 states have some form of clean or renewable electricity standard, and 18 states and territories have adopted 100% clean electricity goals. With the federal EPA limited by the Supreme Court, more states—led by governors, state legislators, and utility commissioners—must step up and implement and accelerate their states’ standards and complementary policies to achieve 100% clean power. 

Wondering what's going on? Check out this video from February that breaks down West Virginia v. EPA.

7. Develop New Clean Air Act Standards for Building Appliances

President Biden and Administrator Regan must also develop new Clean Air Act standards to reduce hazardous pollutants, like nitrogen oxide (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), from building appliances. The nation’s fossil fuel appliances emit 425,000 tons of NOx, more than all of America’s fossil gas power plants, causing billions in public health and climate damages. And building appliances also emit a range of carcinogenic VOCs, like benzene. Clean Air Act standards aimed to reduce these emissions from building appliances like furnaces and water heaters would mitigate a public health crisis and could, through gradual reductions in allowed pollution levels, drive toward 100% zero-emission appliance sales over this decade. Much like Clean Air Act standards that reduce conventional pollutants from power plants, these rules would not be designed to take on climate change, but their promulgation would deliver major climate co-benefits, and the EPA must act.

8. Finalize a New Climate Performance Management Rule at the Federal Highways Administration

President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg must promulgate a new greenhouse gas Performance Management Rule at the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) to help ensure federal transportation infrastructure investments contribute to the task of reducing climate pollution. Such a rule would ensure that state and local deployments of federal transportation investments are accompanied by analyses and reduction strategies for climate pollution, as well as co-pollutants. The Trump administration delayed and ultimately repealed the first FHWA greenhouse gas pollution performance rule; now, DOT should finalize a new measure, and engage with states to ensure it is delivering impact. By doing so, Secretary Buttigieg can support investments in alternative transportation modes, better protect disadvantaged communities, and advance the president’s climate agenda.

9. Finalize a Strong Climate Disclosure Rule

President Biden and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairperson Gary Gensler must finalize a strong climate disclosure rule that includes mandatory disclosure of Scope 3 emissions. The rule is an essential first step toward mitigating the risk of a climate-fueled financial crash by arming investors with the information they need to make climate-smart choices. The disclosure of Scope 3 emissions—the emissions produced upstream and downstream of a company’s value chain, and account for most of the emissions for most companies—is effectively voluntary under the draft rule. To secure full transparency and gird the U.S. economy against a climate crash, Chairperson Gensler must move quickly to ensure Scope 3’s mandatory inclusion in the final rule.

10. Fund President Biden's Defense Production Act Initiative for Clean Technology Manufacturing

Congress must fund President Biden’s new initiatives to enhance clean technology manufacturing under the Defense Production Act. The president recently directed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to support U.S. manufacturing for several clean technologies, including solar panels and heat pumps. Advocates have called on Congress to fund the Department of Energy’s efforts, which would go to loans, direct investments, equipment installation, purchase guarantees, and other means of financial support for burgeoning domestic industries. Congress must pass robust DPA funding that aligns with the president’s ambition, and will be a historic investment in American clean tech manufacturing.

The Court’s illegitimate extremist majority has now undermined all Americans’ access to a clean and safe environment with today’s West Virginia v. EPA decision.

The Supreme Court’s illegitimate majority is waging an antidemocratic campaign to revoke fundamental human rights, prop up corporate interests, and satisfy conservative cultural grievances. Democrats should seek to check the Court’s overreach through court expansion and other measures, but we must also understand that those reforms are not the only available recourse. President Biden and Congressional Democrats have numerous tools at their disposal to cut greenhouse gas pollution and fight the climate crisis; they must move quickly on the actions listed here, and many others, to secure a liveable climate and a sustainable clean energy future.

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