‘My anxiety spikes’: Lawyers brace for Supreme Court climate ruling

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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! In today’s edition, we have an exclusive on a White House announcement about more than 650 hospitals that have agreed to cut their emissions in half by 2030. More on that below. But first:

Environmental lawyers will be frantically hitting the refresh button at 10 a.m. today

Sara Colangelo felt her stomach churn and reached for a bottle of Tums, just as she had done at 10 a.m. on many other days this month.

As she popped a chalky tablet into her mouth, Colangelo refreshed the Supreme Court‘s website and SCOTUSblog yet again, waiting for the words “West Virginia v. EPA” to materialize on the screen.

But the words did not appear. Instead, an even higher number flashed on the heart rate monitor on her Garmin watch.

“Each morning at 10 a.m., my anxiety spikes,” Colangelo, who directs the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, told The Climate 202. “With each day of delay, my fears for this case are festering.”

Like Colangelo, environmental lawyers and climate activists across the country have been bracing for the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA, a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency‘s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.

After a months-long wait, the court is expected to decide the case this morning, rounding out an extraordinary term that saw explosive rulings on guns and abortion

The conservative majority could gut the federal government’s ability to tackle carbon emissions from power plants, a major contributor to climate change. And the court’s delay in resolving the case has taken a big psychological toll.

“Everyone around this office has been anxiously hunched over their computer at 10 a.m. hitting refresh over and over again at the 10-minute mark to see what our fate will be,” Jack Lienke, regulatory policy director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, told The Climate 202.

“I don’t quite understand why it’s done this way, in which the opinions are released every 10 minutes,” he added. “It creates a lot of suspense.”

Jason Rylander, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said he has cleared his schedule at 10 a.m. on most Supreme Court opinion days, only to realize that he’ll need to wait longer for a decision.

“As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part,” Rylander said.

While the expected ruling has caused anxiety for some, it has prompted eager anticipation for John Mangalonzo, a spokesman for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who spearheaded the legal challenge alongside other Republican attorneys general and coal companies.

“This has been years in the making,” Mangalonzo told The Climate 202, referring to the conservative legal movement’s decades-long quest to limit the power of administrative agencies.

“They’re saving the best for last,” he added.

Lienke said the delay in deciding the case could indicate that the court will dismiss it as improvidently granted — or DIG in legal parlance — as the justices did with an immigration case this month.

“I hope it’s an indication that the justices who voted to hear this case in the first place are having a bit of buyer’s remorse,” he said.

But other environmental lawyers said that scenario appears unlikely. They said it was obvious at oral arguments in February that at least five conservative justices support limiting the EPA’s authority to cut carbon pollution from power plants under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

“I hope they DIG it but I am not counting on it,” Jody Freeman, a professor at Harvard Law School, said in an email.

The biggest question, legal scholars said, is whether the court issues a narrow ruling or a broad decision with potentially devastating consequences for the ability of other federal agencies to tackle pressing societal problems.

A narrow ruling would rely on the plain language of the Clean Air Act, which directs the EPA to determine the “best system of emission reduction” for power plants. A broad ruling could invoke the major questions doctrine, which says that federal agencies need explicit authorization from Congress to decide issues of “major economic and political significance.”

Whatever the outcome, Colangelo — and her heart rate monitor — will be ready.

“The stakes,” she said, “couldn’t be higher.”

Exclusive: More than 650 hospitals commit to slashing emissions in half by 2030

The White House will announce today that 61 of the nation’s largest hospital and health-sector companies have joined the Health Sector Climate Pledge, pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, according to details shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

The new commitment covers more than 650 hospitals and thousands of providers across the country. It includes two of the five largest U.S. private hospital and health systems, Ascension and CommonSpirit Health.

The move is meant to help advance President Biden’s target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, as the health-care industry represents about 8.5 percent of overall U.S. emissions. It comes as climate change is increasingly recognized as a public health issue, with research showing that global warming is affecting public health through more frequent and intense weather disasters, extreme heat, and threats to food and water security.

“On his first day in office, President Biden tasked us to mobilize climate ambition and big emissions reductions from each and every sector of our economy,” White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “Today is another milestone realizing his vision, aligning America’s biggest health care companies and hospitals with the President’s bold goal to halve emissions by 2030.” 

The organizations — including public hospitals, health-care centers, pharmaceutical companies, medical device makers and suppliers — will also develop climate resilience plans for their facilities, including plans to support individuals or communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Manchin seeks climate, energy concessions as reconciliation talks continue

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) is seeking concessions from Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on contested climate and energy provisions in President Biden‘s budget reconciliation package, as Democrats race to strike a deal on the spending bill before the August recess, according to people familiar with the talks, Laura Davison, Erik Wasson and Ari Natter report for Bloomberg News. 

Manchin wants to make the package more friendly to fossil fuels by increasing drilling in the western Gulf of Mexico and including a tax credit for carbon capture technology, which environmentalists say prolongs the life of coal plants and is not an efficient option for preventing catastrophic warming, the people said.

Manchin has also expressed interest in expanding the duration of a tax credit for blue hydrogen, or a kind of hydrogen produced from natural gas. And the lawmakers have been wrestling with the value and eligibility requirements for the federal tax credit for electric vehicles.

A fee on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is expected to be included in the package, Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) said last week.

Climate groups sue Biden administration over new oil and gas lease sales

A coalition of environmental groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday for resuming oil and gas lease sales on federal lands in four Western states, Zack Budryk reports for the Hill.  

According to the lawsuit, the lease sales in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Utah violate the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which requires the Interior Department to prevent “unnecessary or undue degradation” of public lands. The plaintiffs include the Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club.

“Overwhelming scientific evidence shows us that burning fossil fuels from existing leases on federal lands is incompatible with a livable climate,” Melissa Hornbein, senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, another coalition of environmental groups is suing Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Land Management in an attempt to stop drilling plans in Wyoming, the site of the largest planned lease sale by far with 120,000 acres of public lands being offered to oil and gas companies, Ella Nilsen reports for CNN. 

The groups argue that the federal government failed to consider the environmental consequences of the sale, including the effects on groundwater, wildlife and planet-warming emissions. The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the complaint on behalf of the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth.

Heat wave chokes Japanese power grid

About 37 million people living near Tokyo have been told to conserve electricity as one of the most severe heat waves on record in Japan strains the power grid, Karina Tsui, Julia Mio Inuma and Ian Livingston report for The Washington Post. 

For the first time, the Japanese government has called on businesses and residences to reduce energy usage between 3 and 6 p.m. on certain days. The guidance has prompted some people to shut off freezers and air conditioners, while others have been advised to work in the dark.

Energy demand in the country is at its peak since 2011 amid the energy crunch sparked by the war in Ukraine, with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry calling the discrepancy between supply and demand “severe.” Japan has been grappling with power outages since March, when an earthquake in the northeast shut down some of the country’s nuclear power plants.


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