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What the SCOTUS decision on EPA means for Wyoming

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot set carbon emission limits in an effort to curb the use of coal. Experts say this will not have a direct effect on Wyoming, but the precedent could be important.

The case goes back to the Obama administration era, which set carbon limits intended to encourage states to rely less on coal and more on alternative energy as part of the Clean Power Plan. The law never went into effect because it was tied up in courts until now.

However, during that time emission levels were largely met because coal was too expensive compared to other power sources. In Wyoming coal production has dropped by about 50 percent since 2008.

“Most utilities, they're already at the emissions levels below what the Clean Power Plan would have achieved, just based on pure economics and decisions related to extending the life of coal plants, retiring them early,” Shannon Anderson, the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s staff attorney and organizer, said.

The Wyoming state legislature passed a bill in 2020 that already requires utilities to consider coal with carbon capture, ideally creating a cleaner way to use coal.

“And those plans are moving forward and utilities are trying to figure out what to do,” Anderson said. “So actually, Wyoming has stronger regulation as a state, then we would have had even without this Supreme Court decision.”

Wyoming’s Governor Mark Gordon applauded the Court’s decision in a statement. The ruling said only Congress has the ability to limit carbon emissions as a way to limit the use of coal power, and Gordon said that decision pushes back on a clear overreach of the federal government.

“Today’s decision recognizes that innovation, not regulation, is a key to a prosperous future and a healthier environment,” he said. “The legal authority to regulate emissions properly lies with Congress and the states, not an overzealous federal bureaucracy insulated from practical accountability.”

Anderson said the EPA can still regulate carbon pollution from a public health and safety standpoint, just not in a way that directly targets the economy of coal. This could look like incentives programs, rather than restrictions.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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