by Mark Schlosberg and Tarah Heinzen
Last week, the Supreme Court rounded out a term full of extremist rulings with West Virginia v. EPA. The court ruled that the EPA can’t mandate an energy sector transition from coal power to less polluting energy sources. This gift to the fossil fuel industry is a major blow to federal efforts to address the climate crisis. But we can’t let the corporatist Supreme Court push us over the climate cliff. Instead, we need to redouble our efforts. There is still so much we can do — at the federal level, in the courts and in states and municipalities across the country.
Here are five ways we can fight for and win a livable planet:
1. Pressure Our Other Branches Of Government Toward Climate Action
WV v. EPA pulled one tool from the EPA’s toolbox, but President Biden and his agencies still have plenty of options. Biden could declare a climate emergency, allowing him to, among other things, halt fossil fuel exports. He and his agencies could also stop approving new fossil fuel projects and new drilling on federal lands. They could stop advocating for industry scams like carbon capture, which will prolong our fossil fuel dependence. And Biden could use his bully pulpit to rally governors, state and local officials and heads of state toward bold climate action.
Even after the Supreme Court’s decision, the EPA can still take meaningful action. It can adopt rules that will ratchet down climate pollution at fossil fuel plants. It can target other dangerous co-pollutants, leading to reduced climate pollution as well. And, while WV v. EPA focused on Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, the EPA can use Section 112 to classify carbon emissions as hazardous. This would open doors to further regulation. Food & Water Watch filed a petition calling on the EPA to do just this in 2019.
Meanwhile, Congress still has the power to act decisively. We need to continue to work with and cultivate climate champions within Congress. Those champions can pass legislation that will confront the fossil fuel industry, stop fracking, ban fossil fuel exports and advance our transition to renewable energy.
2. Continue Taking The Fossil Fuel Industry To Court
Despite WV v. EPA, we have other options for holding our government and fossil fuel interests accountable in court. By law, agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must consider the environmental impacts of projects like pipelines before approving them. These impacts cover climate change, air pollution and environmental justice. If FERC fails to fully consider them, courts can — and do — strike down approvals as unlawful. This can delay and sometimes kill projects altogether.
Litigation is also key to adopting and protecting a wide range of Biden administration rules, including rules to strengthen these environmental reviews. Proposed rules could restore states’ rights to block infrastructure projects that will harm their environment. They could also require climate change disclosures and stop oil and gas leasing.
With our allies, Food & Water Watch is on the front lines of these legal fights. We’re holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court for violating existing laws. We’re also pushing the federal government to finally start accounting for climate change and stop greenlighting polluting projects. All of this work helps to stop fossil fuel companies from locking us into decades more climate emissions.
3. Organize For Aggressive Action At The State And Local Level
Beyond federal action, we have many options for action at the state and local level. For example, California is currently considering its near-term climate plans. As the fifth-largest economy in the world, the Golden State has a huge influence on the future of our climate.
Food & Water Watch and over 150 of our allies recently submitted comments calling on Governor Newsom and the California Air Resources Board to chart a bold path. That includes a rapid transition off oil and onto 100% renewables, as well as a ban on all new oil drilling and gas infrastructure.
From Pennsylvania to Iowa, Oregon to Florida, we’re working with communities against fracking and factory farms, pipelines and power plants. We know firsthand that when communities organize and come together, we can win real change.
4. Expose The Illegitimacy Of Today’s Reactionary Supreme Court And Fight For Court Reform
The rightwing supermajority on the Supreme Court is the result of years of organizing by the Federalist Society and rightwing activists. The Court is now executing its reactionary agenda in a way that undermines environmental protections, civil liberties and ultimately, our democracy.
It’s no coincidence that five members of this majority were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote in their elections. This majority has advanced deregulatory and dangerous agendas, while straying further from public opinion. On top of that, this fall, the Court will hear a case that could take away the people’s power to decide elections. Instead, it could place that power in the hands of state legislatures. Election protections and accountability have never been more important.
Our elected leaders cannot just accept this rightwing hijacking of the judiciary. Instead, they must fight back with every tool at their disposal. This means publicly attacking the legitimacy of these decisions. It means pushing to restore balance by expanding the number of justices on the Court. Food & Water Watch has joined coalition efforts to reform the Court. This must be a priority if we are to preserve our democracy.
5. Vote Like We Live Here
Finally, we need more people engaged in elections at the local, state and federal level. People need to register to vote and engage their friends, family, and neighbors — especially those who haven’t voted before. We need to generate a massive turnout at the ballot this November and at every ballot moving forward.
To beat back the avalanche of corporate money shaping the courts and controlling legislatures, we need an overwhelming show of people power. We can’t win alone. It’s going to take all of us fighting like we live here to win the livable climate and just society we all want and need.
The fight is far from over. Help us spread the word!