On Thursday, June 30th, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon emissions from major electric energy generating facilities. The Supreme Court ruling states that the power to regulate emissions, including to create a cap-and-trade system, lies with Congress and not with the EPA.
As Congress continues to be at a stalemate regarding most issues, including environmental protections, this ruling implies that almost no government body will provide the regulation necessary to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
Though the ruling is specific to the electric energy generating industry, and especially to coal powered generating facilities, it has far reaching implications for the electric utility industry. Mainly, an important message for utilities: the government will not implement meaningful regulation regarding GHG emissions. Instead, the will to change to a fully renewable energy portfolio must come from within the private sector.
Consumers Demand Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction
Electricity production accounted for 25% of GHG emissions in 2020, according to the EPA. By transitioning to renewable energy sources, electric utility GHG contributions could be erased. (Another important solution is to electrify homes and residential buildings – check out last week’s article Electrify Homes to Mitigate Climate Change for more information).
Consumers of electric energy are already demanding more power from renewables, and the demand will continue to grow as people experience the effects of climate change, such as more severe storms, droughts, and wildfires. Electric utilities must meet this demand by using their purchasing power to increase energy production from renewable sources, instead of from burning fossil fuels.
Governmental Regulation Won’t Solve the Climate Crisis
Electric utilities must recognize that the government will not provide the regulations necessary to promote the transition to a renewable energy future. Though some state and local jurisdictions may implement regulations on GHG emissions, nation-wide regulations may never happen.
Instead, the will to transition to renewables must come from within the private sector, from electric utilities themselves. They must demand that electric energy generation facilities increase their renewable energy sources and phase out fossil fuels within the next 5 years.
This is not only a matter of doing what is right for a healthy planet; it is a sustainable business strategy. To continue to make a profit on energy transmission and distribution, electric utilities must transition to a more sustainable future. This will ensure the continued existence of their companies as part of a healthy planet.
Furthermore, electric utilities must invest in energy storage technology to bridge the gap in the energy transition. Batteries will provide backup power so that renewable energy sources can sustain the grid even when renewables are inactive due to external factors such as cloud cover or lack of wind.
Individual Actions Help
Individuals who read about the Supreme Court decision may begin to feel helpless. However, there are a few actions you can take to help pave the way towards a future without the worst impacts of climate change.
Start by contacting your electric energy provider to see if they offer a renewable energy portfolio. If not, start a letter writing campaign with friends and neighbors to demand that your electric utility increase the amount of renewable energy sources that provide electricity to your area. When consumers demand renewables, utilities are more likely to provide them as an option or even a regular asset of their energy production portfolio.
This tool helps residents of the state of Oregon find their electric utility provider; similar tools may be available in other states.
Another important strategy is to divest from fossil fuel companies. Connect with a local chapter of the Fossil Free movement to demand that corporate and government investments be divested from fossil fuel companies. Fossil fuel companies are increasingly seen as non-viable investments in the long term, so this is a prudent decision for individual and business finances, as well as for the planet.
Hope for a Sustainable Future
The Supreme Court decision is disheartening. When past environmental crises were understood, Congress acted by implementing the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, banning DDT, removing lead from gasoline, and so much more, all with regulation by the EPA. Now the effects of burning fossil fuels are well understood, but Congress may never act on this knowledge, and the EPA may be prevented from regulating as they always have.
The actions of electric utilities within the private sector, as well as individual actions, can make a difference in the future of energy and the health of our planet. We at Prescient strongly encourage electric utilities to act now to ensure a sustainable future for the planet; they have the power to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.