U.S. environmental policy crucial for sustainability

After the recent death of conservative United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, certain areas of the federal government are in disarray. Our liberal president has not only a right, but a duty to continue to govern in the resulting chaos—even if that means continuing to advance his Democratic agenda. One major cornerstone of the president’s legacy—the Clean Power Plan—is at stake.

The Supreme Court ordered a stay on the Clean Power Plan—Obama’s major environmental initiative—just four days before Scalia’s death. The plan provides regulations on carbon emissions from power plants, which is intended to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

The plan was a major bargaining chip for the U.S. at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. It was the only evidence our nation could put forth of a serious commitment toward taking action to curb climate change. With the stay in place, the commitments to sustainability goals of nations around the world are thrown into question.

With no majority to rule on the plan in its current form, it would likely sit unimplemented. According to Linda Hirshman of The Washington Post, however, if Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a slightly altered version of the rule, the process would start all over again. The circuit courts—which Obama has stacked with his appointees—would again refuse to issue a stay on the order. Without Scalia, there would be no Supreme Court majority to overrule them.

If such a path to implementation exists, Obama should take it, regardless of the calls to rise above partisan agendas in this time of flux. Nations around the world are looking to the U.S.—the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouses gases—for assurance of its commitment to reduce its impact on the planet. There is little hope of keeping the average temperature of the planet from rising two degrees Celsius by 2100—let alone the agreed-upon target of 1.5 degrees—if the U.S. does not cooperate with this international effort.

If there seems to be little chance of meeting the sustainability goals anyway, other nations may give up on their commitments toward these goals as pointless endeavors. Such a lack of leadership would not only be catastrophic to the planet, but would also represent a failure, as the U.S. could not live up to the position we so boastfully promise to the world. If the Clean Power Plan can affirm our commitment to the planet, then saving it will be well worth the accusations of opportunism.

Someone has to govern this country and going an entire year with a hobbled Supreme Court is not conducive to that. If the current situation is allowed to continue, there must be someone willing to step up and do the things that must be done in order to assure our continuing greatness. Future generations will have that person to thank.