West Virginia v. EPA: Meeting the Moment
July 13, 2022
At the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a pivotal case (West Virginia v. EPA) to limit the options available to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce pollution from power plants, which are the second-largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan respectfully points out that in this case “The court appoints itself – instead of Congress or the expert agency – the decision-maker on climate policy.” Having had the privilege of serving as a public servant within the EPA and helping to design its earliest attempts to address climate change I am deeply disturbed by this ruling. The decision will create a significant impediment to the ability of the many dedicated experts at the EPA, who I know are committed to protecting our environment and the health of the American people, to craft science-based approaches to combat the growing challenges we face from climate change.
Here in California, and in truth across the country and the world, we are witnessing firsthand the growing impacts of climate change. They include more powerful storms, longer lasting heatwaves and droughts, damage to coastal communities due to sea level rise and of course more destructive wildfire seasons. Beyond the direct impact that climate change has on people, there is also the continued degradation of our ecosystems and losses of important biodiversity that underpin our fundamental wellbeing. For example, increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere contributes to warmer ocean temperatures and increased ocean acidification. This disrupts the health of fisheries that many of us depend on for food and jobs.
We need all of the tools available to fight climate change – the urgent need to take ambitious action now is too great.
One pathway that continues to be a game changer and offers powerful solutions to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss is the use of nature-based solutions. These solutions at their core are designed to simultaneously address climate change (opportunities for lowering carbon emissions and building resiliency) and halt biodiversity loss. In fact, the science is clear that nature-based solutions can offer significant climate benefits while providing many additional multiple benefits to wildlife and people. For example, restoring tidal marshes and other wetlands provide critically important wildlife habitat while at the same time significantly increasing the ability of these areas to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. These healthier wetlands are also important parts of our fresh water supplies, they improve the health of local fisheries, and they can serve as accessible recreational parks for local communities.
To be clear, nature-based solutions must act in tandem with other actions, such as transitioning to a clean energy economy to fully address the climate change threat we face. We strongly support a broad suite of solutions to climate change that will help us protect the interconnected web of plants, animals, and processes that provide food, shelter, water, and air for all of us. And, as the science of nature-based solutions continues to evolve and demonstrate new multi-benefit solutions to climate change (e.g., improved soil management practices to store carbon on the land as well as make food systems more resilient to prolonged droughts) there is room for optimism that we have the tools available to meet the ambition that is needed.
The most recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as other challenges to the much-needed efforts to address climate change can serve as a galvanizing moment for action. This moment will require a commitment on different levels across our society. As we each look to take the action we can as individuals and communities, Point Blue will continue to offer climate change solutions that are rooted in science and designed and implemented in partnership with nature and all communities. I am optimistic that together we can meet this moment and fulfill our hopeful vision for a better future.