On June 30, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) made another tragic decision. Just days after overturning the constitutional right to an abortion, the Court curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s capacity to regulate climate-changing greenhouse gases for existing fossil fuels power plants under the Clean Air Act.
The ruling in West Virginia v. EPA affirmed that the agency needs specific Congressional approval to set standards on greenhouse gas emissions. Though it will not prevent EPA’s capacity to authorize power-plant-specific controls, this is a blow to the Biden administration’s already weak climate agenda, especially considering the difficulty of passing any federal climate legislation.
The SCOTUS conservative majority sided with the fossil fuel industry interests and voted against the people and the future of our planet.
This despicable decision happens within a framework of hesitant yet visible progress. Only eight months ago, the EU and the U.S. officially launched the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 in Glasgow. Participants joining the pact agree to take voluntary actions to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Methane is the second most powerful greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2), and it has more than 80 times the warming power of CO2 over a 20 years period. The U.S. accounts for nearly 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is among the top-three global methane emitters, along with Turkmenistan and Russia. The SCOTUS ruling is a step backwards for the US’s ability to deliver on national and international climate commitments and achieve an announced level of 50% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030, The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stresses that GHG emissions need to peak in the next few years if we want to limit global warming under 1.5°C, and deep greenhouse gas reductions need to be achieved by 2030. In particular, methane emissions should be reduced by a third. In parallel, no new investments in fossil fuel projects and no new coal plants can be built if we want to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The SCOTUS ruling will have an impact on the possibility of achieving these and more ambitious climate targets, undermining the transition to 100% clean energy systems and the phase out of fossil fuels.
Amid these worrying developments, the EU must strengthen its leading role in the global fight against climate change. However, the EU’s investments in Liquified Fossil Gas (LNG) and new fossil fuel projects are the wrong solution. More LNG imports lock us further in fossil fuel dependency, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and invest billions of Euros in what will become stranded assets. Fossil gas from the U.S. is even dirtier than Russian gas due to the high fugitive methane emissions that occur during production, which largely relies on the climate-wrecking fracking technology. As the Supreme Court threatens to weaken U.S. policies to combat climate change, Europe needs to step up and halt its LNG expansion projects.
Ambitious greenhouse gas reductions must be matched with legislative proposals that are up to the task. Therefore, the European Commission’s proposed regulation to slash methane emissions, currently under discussion in the Council and European Parliament, must provide bold solutions. This includes extending the domestic provisions on Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV), Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) and Ban on Routine Venting and Flaring (BRVF) to EU energy imports, and including methane emission reduction targets. Ultimately, it is essential that this regulation be coupled with an ambitious strategy for a phase out of fossil gas. Europe cannot adopt relaxed rules that benefit the fossil fuel industry while the world is on the edge of climate disaster.
The EU has the duty to send a strong signal at international level in response to the climate challenges that can’t be postponed and the necessity to fulfill the Paris Agreement commitments. Europeans do not want to be locked into dependency on dirty, leaky fracking gas. Numerous groups and individuals across the EU fight to get Europe off gas, not replace dependence on Russian gas with dependence on US LNG.