By Zoya Teirstein, Grist

Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden announced a plan to cut emissions in half by the end of this decade. So far, conservative members of his own party have been the biggest obstacle to achieving progress on climate change. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of two crucial Democratic swing votes in the Senate, succeeded in removing the most aggressive climate policy from Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which is still being negotiated.

But a greater obstacle looms on the treacherous path to reining in greenhouse gas emissions, one that the White House won’t be able to negotiate with: the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court building with billowing smokestacks behind it
Photos by Linnaea Mallette and AscendedAnathema

Under former president Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, ensuring a conservative supermajority for decades to come (unless Democrats pass a law to expand the number of seats on the bench). The effect of the court’s new ideological makeup on climate policy will be put to the test next year.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to review the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The United States’ fossil-fuel powered plants produce about a third of its energy-related emissions. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Now, the manner in which the agency wields that authority, and possibly even the portion of the Clean Air Act that grants the EPA the power to regulate emissions, will be under scrutiny from the court.

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