Energy

After Supreme Court Hands Down Ruling on Carbon Emissions, Public Split on Whether Decision Will Have Major or Minor Impact on U.S. Climate Targets

About 2 in 5 adults were opposed to the decision as Biden’s clean energy goals take a hit from the ruling

Environmental activists rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on July 6, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The group Climate Action Campaign organized the rally to protest against the Supreme Court's decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which limits the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The Supreme Court’s decision on the EPA’s emissions authority is opposed by 39% of all adults. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases, a new Morning Consult survey found the public is essentially split on the decision’s impact on U.S. emissions reduction efforts. 

2 in 5 Adults Think Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling Will Have ‘Major Impact’ on Country’s Ability to Curb Emissions

Respondents were asked to what extent they think the Supreme Court’s decision will impact U.S. efforts to lower carbon emissions levels

Survey conducted June 30-July 2, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.
Ruling’s perceived impact varies by party, views on climate change
  • A plurality of adults (43%) said the Supreme Court’s ruling that limits the EPA’s ability to reduce the carbon output of existing power plants will have a “major impact” on U.S. efforts to lower carbon emissions levels, while 38% said it will have a “minor impact.” About 1 in 5 adults said they expected no impact on reaching those climate goals.
  • Three in 5 Democrats said the court’s decision will have a major impact on U.S. emissions goals, while half of Republicans said the impact will be minor and independents were fairly split.
  • Climate-concerned adults were also more likely to believe the decision will have a major impact on U.S. efforts to lower carbon emissions levels: 55% of those adults said it would have a major impact, while 15% of those unconcerned about climate change believed the same. 
About 2 in 5 Adults Oppose Supreme Court’s Decision to Limit EPA’s Power to Curb Carbon Emissions at Existing Power Plants
But a nearly equal share of the public supports the high court’s ruling
Survey conducted June 30-July 2, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.
Public’s support for ruling is also split
  • The Supreme Court’s decision on the EPA’s authority over existing power plant emissions is opposed by 39% of all adults, including 55% of Democrats. A similar share of the public (35%) supported the ruling, including 47% of Republicans. 
  • About half of climate-concerned adults opposed the decision, while a nearly equal share of adults who are unconcerned about climate change supported the ruling. 
  • The survey also showed that based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, only 31% of all adults were “very” or “somewhat” confident that the United States will reduce its carbon emissions and slow the impacts of climate change in the next decade. 
Background

In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled last week that the Clean Air Act did not authorize the EPA to create an overarching rule, such as the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, to reduce greenhouse gases from power plants, specifically carbon dioxide emissions.

The Obama administration in 2015 enacted the CPP, which pushed for power plants to transition to renewables, but the regulation never took effect following court challenges in 2016. The Trump administration repealed the rule in 2019.

While the ruling was a blow to the Biden administration’s clean energy goals, legal experts have pointed out that the agency retains some authority to set guidelines for emissions from existing fossil fuel power plants

But some studies suggest that President Joe Biden’s climate goals could suffer as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, particularly if no additional policies are passed by Congress in the meantime. 

Congress can amend the Clean Air Act to expressly grant the EPA the authority to regulate carbon emissions, but it would require majority support in the House and the divided Senate, which remains unlikely. 

The June 30-July 2, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult