Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Indiana-supported Case Seeking Limit on EPA Climate Powers

October 29, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case brought by Republican-led states and fossil fuel companies asking the court to limit the federal government’s power to curb greenhouse gases.

Petitions filed by the attorneys general of 18 states, including Indiana, and the governor of Mississippi, the state of North Dakota, Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC and North American Coal Corp. were combined into one large case that asks the court to set the limits of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate industry-wide emissions.

The court’s decision could severely limit the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases, potentially allowing polluting industries to save money by avoiding costly emissions requirements and setting the world on a climate change path it would not be able to recover from for centuries, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


The attorney general of West Virginia, along with 18 other fossil fuel-dependent states, including Indiana, asked the Supreme Court to review the EPA’s power to regulate environmental issues.

On the final full day of the Trump administration, a federal court struck down the polluter-friendly Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which gave states the power to enforce federal standards and set their own requirements for coal-fired power plant emissions.

The incoming Biden administration expressed its goals to decrease climate change impacts by reducing the use of fossil fuels in electric power generation.

The goal puts the administration at odds with states and businesses clinging to fossil fuels, despite a negative financial long-term outlook.

“No one should deny the need and priority to conserve our precious God-given resources, but it is foolish to placate such arbitrary and harsh parameters, and the consequences of adopting such measures, based on the ideological whims of subjective zealots,” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita told the Indiana Environmental Reporter in June.

The states involved in the petition want the court to determine whether, beyond checks on cost, non-air impacts and energy requirements, there are limits to the EPA’s power to reshape the nation’s electricity grid.


Much like West Virginia v. EPA, this case asks the Supreme Court to review the extent of the EPA’s powers, including whether the EPA has the power to impose more regulations on emissions sources that are already regulated for hazardous air pollutants.

“[I]ndustry has been whipsawed and frustrated in making the long-term decisions and investments necessary to meet the nation’s energy needs, Congress has been stymied in crafting energy and climate-change policy by the uncertain legal baseline, the past two administrations have seen their regulatory efforts go up in smoke, and the states have been forced to respond to a series of conflicting regulatory demands merely to ensure that the lights stay on. Both government and industry need certainty on this question of indisputably vast economic and political significance,” the petition states.

Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC owns many fossil fuel assets, including coal mines in Montana, North Dakota and New Mexico.

A previous version of the company, Westmoreland Coal Co., filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and tried to sell off its assets, but only its creditors put in bids. The creditors took over the assets and established Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC.

The coal from those mines has kept heavily polluting power plants operational, including the San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow, New Mexico, and the Colstrip Power Plant in Colstrip, Montana.

The petition could have important ramifications for the company’s and the industry’s financial future.


North American Coal Corp.’s petition asks the Supreme Court to determine whether federal law authorizes the EPA to impose standards on emissions sources, and whether the EPA can develop industry-wide systems like cap-and-trade regimes.

The company operates coal mines owned by other companies in 13 states, including Indiana, and stands to benefit from widespread fossil fuel use.

“[W]hat must be resolved as soon as possible is who has the authority to decide those issues on an industry-wide scale — Congress or the EPA,” the company’s attorneys said in its petition.


The state of North Dakota’s petition asks the Supreme Court to review whether the EPA has the power to set nationwide performance standards affecting the entire electric generation sector, and whether those regulations “deprive” states of their own power to regulate emissions sources.

North Dakota is the fifth-largest producer of coal, producing nearly 5% of the total coal in the U.S. in 2020.

The state produces mainly lignite coal, also known as brown coal, the lowest grade of coal with the least concentration of carbon. Because of its low heating value, lignite coal is used mainly in electric generation.

The state has a vested interest in the survival of coal, as coal companies provide about $100 million in taxes to the state yearly and employ about 15,000 people in jobs related to the lignite industry, according to the state.

The consolidated cases will be heard by the Court sometime next year.

The majority conservative court’s decision could give President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda a further blow after conservatives from his own party neutered climate provisions in a proposed spending bill.

One of the provisions stripped from the bill was a clean energy performance program, which would reward energy suppliers who transition away from greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels like coal and natural gas and impose fines on those companies who do not.

The clean energy program was stripped from the bill after Sen. Joe Manchin, from coal-producing West Virginia, said he would not support the bill. Manchin serves as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair.

Manchin’s financial ties to the coal industry have increasingly come under scrutiny. He has made millions of dollars from Enersystems, a private coal brokerage he founded in the 1980s, and has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry.

The climate provisions left in the bill include $555 billion in tax breaks and incentives for reducing greenhouse gases.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Indiana-supported Case Seeking Limit on EPA Climate Powers