Reflections on the Supreme Court’s EPA Rebuff

A-polar-bear-and-her-cubs-007This has been a busy time for America’s highest court, with gargantuan issues–gay marriage, Obama Care, and approval of a controversial capital punishment drug, cases decided by razor thin majorities.

No less important, perhaps the most impacting of all, is the Supreme Court’s decision ultimately affecting climate change; namely its one vote majority ruling against the EPA’s Mercury and Toxic Standards (MATS) provision, designed to reduce mercury and other air pollutants from the nation’s myriad power plants, especially those utilizing coal.

Though MATS wasn’t specifically disavowed, the Court ruled that the EPA must consider the financial burden it imposes. Accordingly, the case goes back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to deliberate new guidelines.

I think the decision horrendous in the context of the preeminent threat we and, especially posterity, face in the context of climate change, which the vast weight of environmental science affirms is human induced.

In fact, if we don’t get our act together, we may find ourselves joining the plethora of species we’ve either driven into extinction or endangered.

On the other hand, I laud justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the minority decision in the 5-4 verdict:

Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants. And when making its initial ‘appropriate and necessary’ finding, EPA knew it would do exactly that — knew it would thoroughly consider the cost-effectiveness of emissions standards later on. That context matters.

While it’s probable the lower court won’t gut the act, but simply mandate that EPA integrate cost factors upfront, not after-the-fact, as it had done, this may sadly take another five years and still be subject to legal scrutiny.

Climate change, in the meanwhile, isn’t about to go into a stall while we continue to rely upon coal as an energy source for many of our power plants.

The corollary is that like a credit card we don’t pay off, our delay will exact cost burdens exceeding mere cash reckonings in hazarding the health of both ourselves and the impinging on the ecological interplay upon which we depend.

Nobody wants to pay more for energy costs any more than we relish replacing a malfunctioning stove or fridge for a newer, more efficient model, at increased cost. Alas, sometimes it is what it is and we move on.

What moved me to write this post as I awoke today to a new dawn outside my window is a news story just out of the BBC, reporting on “Irreversible Change to Sea Life from CO2, compiled by twenty-two experts in the journal Science

Coral reefs, polar bears, many fish–all gone by century end as oceans continue to heat up, lose oxygen, and become more acidic, consequent with our embrace of CO2 energy sources.

And we’ll not be spared either, as the ocean out of which all life came and upon which it substantially depends, not only overwhelms our coast lines, but our ecosystems as well.

This is the true cost of our delay and our neglect, unacknowledged by the Court as in the  public’s greater interest and for the well-being of Mother Earth.














When Religion Strays too Far: The Hobby Lobby Aftermath

SpringArborIt’s sufficiently dismaying that the Supreme Court via its Hobby Lobby decision has further defined corporate entities as people, and thus with inherent individual rights.

Not only do corporations have unlimited spending rights when it comes to elections, but with the Hobby Lobby ruling, for-profit corporations can now refuse to observe government mandates under the ACA to provide birth control coverage in health coverage for their employees on religious grounds. (Religious non-profits were previously exempted under the law.)

Intriguingly, the majority decision that denigrates a woman’s sovereignty over her own body was made by five men, all of them Catholics.

We can only speculate the slippery slope the Court may have set in motion. In fact, it suggests that for-profit corporations with moral or religious scruples are now free to discriminate in hiring gays or even divorced people. They might even opt to dismiss those opting for abortion or living with a significant other, or terminating their marriage.

At the very least, the Court’s decision establishes a precedent for the expansion of exclusion rights, and not just with regard to corporations, since the underlying assumption is based upon the notion of a person’s right to his or her convictions and corporations are now people.

Historically, following upon a corporate scandal, Congress in 1907 passed a measure forbidding corporate investment in federal elections, which held until 1978 when the high court ruled that corporations have First Amendment rights to finance state ballot initiatives. Even then, only individuals or groups of individuals–political action committees–could do so.

Then came the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in 2010, granting corporations unlimited spending rights in all elections, federal, state or local.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court had never in any similar case ruled a for-profit corporation to be a religious entity for purpose of exclusion from federal law. The Justice Department, in fact, contended it would be unable to effectively enforce other laws affecting child labor, immunization, serving racial minorities, or income tax laws requiring universal compliance regardless of how government spends the money.

It’s bad enough as is that in the non-corporate sector, even though Title IX bars schools that receive federal funds (e.g, public student loans and Pell grants) from discriminating against transgender and gays, there exists a specific exemption for religious colleges who find such mandates incompatible with their religious beliefs.

Consequently, the Department of Education has recently granted exemptions to George Fox University, Simpson University, and Spring Arbor University. Since there are a good number of evangelical colleges that fall under the religious umbrella, it’s likely there will be many more exemptions.

Unfortunately, the dark side of religion is often one of imposing beliefs on others, and its history continues stained with violence and intolerance.

We know that majorities can constitute their own tyranny, but so can minorities. Hence Congress needs to review the laws governing these exemptions and narrow their scope.




%d bloggers like this: