The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday blocking federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants marked a blow to U.S. efforts to avert climate catastrophe, but will not directly impact Maine’s climate plans.

The 6-3 decision in West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency was a victory for coal mining interests and climate skeptics. The court’s new conservative supermajority ruled the federal agency is not allowed to implement a cap-and-trade plan for carbon emissions and other ambitious carbon dioxide mitigation strategies under the Clean Air Act. It reduces the pressure on fossil fuel energy producers, which mostly operate in other states, to cut their carbon emissions by moving away from coal and oil.

The decision will not directly impact Maine state government’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions or Gov. Janet Mills’ ambitious efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, experts told the Press Herald Thursday.

“Maine and most of New England have made good strides in the last decade to decarbonize our power generation with pretty aggressive legal mandates for renewable energy,” said David Reidmiller, director of the Climate Center at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. “But what this effectively does is give a free pass to those states who are still reliant on fossil fuel generation, putting more of the burden on states like us to take climate action if we are to avert the worst impacts of climate change.”

Mills, a Democrat, condemned the Supreme Court ruling in scathing terms Thursday.

“This flawed and shortsighted decision is an offense to Maine people. It undermines one of our nation’s signature environmental protections – the Clean Air Act, crafted by Maine’s own Ed Muskie and reauthorized under George Mitchell – and it significantly hinders our country’s ability to tackle the climate crisis,” Mills said in a statement. “Maine and the nation will pay the price for years to come. Maine people and businesses are feeling the impact of climate change right now, every day and, regardless of this decision, my administration will continue to take aggressive action to fight this crisis and make our state more resilient to its impacts. The future of our state, our families and our planet depends on it.”


Former Gov. Paul LePage – the Republican nominee for governor this year — did not issue a prepared statement and a spokesman did not respond Thursday afternoon to a request for LePage’s reaction to the ruling.


Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said the “radical Supreme Court has granted another giveaway to corporate polluters at the expense of human health and the preservation of our communities.”

“Make no mistake: this decision will set us back years in the fight against climate change,” Pingree said in a statement. “Now, instead of Congress passing a law and allowing the administration the agility and scientific expertise to implement that law, every small regulation will require congressional approval. The High Court has adopted a deliberate slow-down of any effort to stop environmental disasters as floods, fires, drought, smog, and contaminated water devastate cities and towns across the U.S.”

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, also expressed outrage.

“Unfortunately, the three justices advanced by the previous administration continue to validate my decisions to oppose their confirmations,” he said, referring to Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. “Now, it’s up to Congress to get to work and clean up their mess. I sit at Edmund Muskie’s desk – the desk where he negotiated, argued, and pushed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into existence. In the months ahead, I will be carrying his legacy forward among my colleagues, and reminding them of our sacred responsibility to protect our country and our planet for future generations.”


Maine has only one oil-fired generating station: the Wyman station on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth, which is only online 8 percent of the time to meet peak electricity demand. Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald, file

The court – with a new supermajority created by former President Donald Trump’s three conservative justices – did not overturn decisions that allow the EPA to regulate carbon emissions as some feared it might. The decision only affects the agency’s ability to impose certain carbon reduction requirements on power plants.

Maine has only five small natural gas-fired generating stations, no coal stations, and one oil-fired one: the Wyman station on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth, which is only online 8 percent of the time to meet peak electricity demand. Together they accounted for a quarter of Maine’s electrical generation in March.

The court’s decision was aggressive in that it dealt with a set of rules from former President Barack Obama’s tenure that never went into effect, suggesting the new conservative supermajority is highly motivated to see its legal interpretations imposed nationally. But even if those rules had gone into effect, they would not have had any effect on Maine, said Jeffrey Crawford, director of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s air quality bureau.


“We would have had to put together a report, but there wouldn’t have been any new reductions under it,” Crawford said. “The court decision doesn’t impact the (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) or renewable portfolio standards or any of the other programs we’re working on. However, it is kind of concerning in that the doctrine they use as the basis of the decision – would somebody use it to contest other programs in the future and would this court rule in their favor?”

Sean Mahoney, an environmental lawyer at the Conservation Law Foundation, shared that concern.


“I do think that the court’s decision is a stark reminder of how much elections matter,” he said. “We are lucky to have a state government that follows the science, understands the economic risk presented by the climate crisis and is willing to take action to address it. Not every state in the country has that kind of leadership.”

The ruling still will have a negative impact on Maine’s air quality, said Jack Shapiro, climate and energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“We’re a downwind state and this decision will also slow the transition away from the particulate pollution and ozone and other pollutants that come along with coal power plant operation elsewhere in the Northeast and Midwest,” he noted.

The Mills administration set ambitious targets for Maine to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The four-year climate plan, Maine Won’t Wait, has won accolades from environmentalists and climate experts for its comprehensive sweep, addressing everything from the changes that will have to be made in how we power our vehicles and heat our homes to initiatives that aim to put Maine at the forefront of climate-related industries like the manufacture of offshore wind turbines, including training the required workforce.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story