The Supreme Court Just Dealt a Major Blow to the Green Left—and a Major Win for Democracy | Opinion

The Supreme Court has handed down another win for skeptics of progressive overreach. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to set national energy policy and regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The ruling was a blow to the Biden Administration, which has pursued an aggressive clean energy agenda. But it was a win for democracy—as well as for a politically sustainable approach to climate change.

You won't hear much about that in the mainstream press. Expect instead an endless litany of hysteria about our dying planet and the right-wing plot to accelerate the end of the natural world. "Run out of words to describe this court, but, among other things, it's now a threat to the planet," tweeted MSNBC host Chris Hayes in a typical missive.

Yet the issue here is not really environmental; it's fundamentally political. The new Court may be too doctrinaire in its states' rights approach, as we have seen in the sweeping Roe and gun decision, but so far it has hewn to an important principle: Major policies should have approval from elected representatives rather than being handed down from the bureaucratic Olympus.

This was the Supreme Court's primary objection to the Obama-era limitations on power plants: These limitations were never passed by Congress but imposed by decree. In this, SCOTUS identified a frightening trend that has been building for decades under both parties, and has worked to overcome it; what kind of policies we enact, and how draconian they should be, should be left to the people's representatives, the Court has ruled. Our legislative electeds may not always be the brightest bulbs, but that hardly matters. What matters is that they are accountable to us.

This is not how many in the green movement wanted things to shake out. Their modus operandi is to couple relentless exaggeration and predictions of imminent doom with a barely disguised desire to exercise direct, unconstrained control over the everyday lives of citizens, much like the medieval Catholic Church, or Stalin. Indeed, for some of the Green New folks, the draconian lockdowns from the pandemic were not so much a tragedy but a a "test run" for the kind of rule by a global technocracy that some progressive pundits now seek to impose.

New Jersey
Linden - New Jersey - APRIL 22: A chimney from the Linden Cogeneration Plant is seen in Linden New Jersey April 22, 2022. Kena Betancur/VIEWpress

Clearly, this is not compatible with the notion of a self-governing Republic. If climate policies are important, it might make sense to ask the public what policies they would like to see. But to date, there has been little political participation by the bulk of the citizenry in climate policy. Instead we've been treated to a toxic combination of progressive authoritarianism and a Right-wing refusal to confront the issue at all.

As a result of this lack of buy in from the public, climate policy now effortlessly and disproportionately impacts the poor, even immiserating the middle class and minorities, as Jennifer Hernandez has laid out in her scathing report, "The Green Jim Crow," from the environmentalist Breakthrough Institute.

The imposition of such things as eliminating the energy industry, banning natural gas hookups, or mandating electric vehicles have consequences—something even some Democrats acknowledge. When Gavin Newsom—who's been aptly dubbed "California's champion virtue signaler"—issued a decree mandating EVs, Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper, an African American from Sacramento, denounced the proposal, pointing out that the low- and middle-income drivers he represents can't afford vehicles that "cost more than $50K each. How will my constituents afford an EV? They can't," he tweeted.

To succeed over time in California and elsewhere, environmental policy needs not only to protect the environment, but to do so as equitably as possible, to use a term the Left likes. We can't just impose the burden of our environmental goals on the poor and working class. We need to make sure the cost of protecting the planet is fairly distributed, instead of imposing energy poverty on the masses while enlightened oligarchs fly to their numerous homes on private jets. And doing that means returning it to legislators.

Downtown highrise buildings are shown cloaked in dirty air shortly after sunrise in Los Angeles, California. Although air quality in Los Angeles has improved in recent decades, smog levels remain among the nation's worst. Numerous wildfires in the region have also contributed to Los Angeles' air pollution problem.

To be sure, climate change has its imperatives. But policies to address them have to consider the broad economic and social impacts. That's something that only elected representatives can address in what is supposed to be a democratic, self-governing country.

We should not allow climate to become the soil for fertilizing oligarchy. Rather than just trying to terrorize American citizens or ignore their wishes, the Green Left will now be forced to produce policies that protect nature without stomping out all natural human aspirations.

Ultimately, great decisions in a democracy should end up with the people. If they don't, we are no longer a Republic but, like the Roman Empire, just an autocracy following the forms of self-government.

If the Supreme Court decision forces greens and their critics to win over the public, it has done us all a service.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.