The Supreme Court recently ruled in a 6-3 decision to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s authority to lower greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. How was this done? By ruling a past act unconstitutional.
Initially enacted in 1963, the Clean Air Act was one of America’s earliest and most influential environment protection laws. The legislation authorized the development of “comprehensive federal and state regulations to limit emissions from both stationary (industrial) sources and mobile sources.” It additionally set federal standards for mobile sources for air pollution and listed approximately 187 hazardous air pollutants, establishing a “cap-and-trade program for the emissions that cause acid rain.”
In a similar style to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, West Virginia v. EPA overturned the federal legislation and gave power to the states. The conservative supermajority in the Supreme Court ruled under their “major questions doctrine,” ruling that “any issue with major economic or political consequences requires explicit congressional authorization in law.”
The implications on Guam
The Clean Air Act in Guam was responsible for “protecting and improving air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer” (Guam EPA). Local mandates were made to regulate air pollution but many of these laws were turned over to Guam’s EPA. Now that the EPA’s powers have decreased under the new rulings, new laws will now have to be independently formulated by the unicameral Legislature of Guam.
Guam’s environmental issues mainly lie with mismanaged used-military equipment. In 2021, there was a case regarding Ordot Dump, which had opened on the island during the World War II era. In a unanimous ruling, the SCOTUS rejected the US government’s stance that Guam had waited too long before suing the government for over $160 million in damages for cleaning up a former superfund landfill created by the US Navy. While this was a big win for Guam, it was a reactive response to environmental issues, not a proactive one.
As Guam faces “stronger tropical storms and typhoons,” “freshwater supplies” are being put at risk, and “sea level rise threatens infrastructure, including housing and transportation, as well as ecosystems and cultural sites,” among other ecological crises, now is the worst time in history for the Environmental Protection Agency to be weakened by the Supreme Court.
The Legislature of Guam has yet to respond with the passage of new laws and rulings to address the changing legal landscape and the worsening environmental crisis.