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SCOTUS ruling may reduce immediate legal uncertainty, but also reduces EPA regulatory scope

As the US Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v EPA unfolds, our North American Power and Renewables experts share key highlights from recent research.

West Virginia v. EPA questions the scope of EPA's authority to regulate beyond the fenceline:

  • Stemming from the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, the case questioned whether EPA has the authority to set regional or national standards that would mandate "dramatic changes" in how and where electricity is produced.
  • Notably, the emissions goals of the Clean Power Plan have already been vastly exceeded, a decade ahead of schedule.

Coal retirements are expected to continue independent of new federal policies:

  • S&P Global Commodity Insights expect 145 GW of coal retirements in the United States this decade, with coal's share in the U.S. electric power generation fleet dropping from 22% today to 5% by 2030.
  • By 2030, coal capacity will have declined by 80% from its 2011 peak.
  • No prospective Clean Air Act (CAA) regulation was or is embedded in our outlooks.

"We expect coal plants to continue retiring in the United States independent of new federal policies, with coal's share of U.S. installed capacity dropping to 5% by 2030, down from 30% a decade ago." - Xizhou Zhou, vice president, global power and renewables, S&P Global Commodity Insights

Ask Xizhou a question.

Wind and solar growth is expected to continue—and accelerate—even absent new federal regulations as states and the private sector continue with their decarbonization drive:

  • Last year, half of announced renewable deals in the United States were backed by corporations in technology, retail and other sectors that have increased their renewable energy procurement ambitions.
  • Renewables will shrug off the impending expiration of tax credits, supported by state policy ambitions and further corporate procurement.
  • By 2030, we expect U.S. installed capacity of wind and solar to reach 550 GW, doubling from today's capacity, plus a further 55 GW of battery storage capacity. Together, they will account for 42% of installed capacity, up from 20% today.

EPA has long been compelled to regulate CO2, but only uncertainty has followed:

  • A confluence of court rulings, EPA determinations and a 2010 legal settlement among several parties has historically compelled EPA to issue regulations to control CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act so long as the pollutant is not regulated under another U.S. federal statute.
  • This requirement, which drove the Obama EPA's Clean Power Plan (repealed in 2019) and the Trump EPA's Affordable Clean Energy rule (vacated by the courts in 2021), persists and will drive the Biden administration to either propose new CAA regulations or advocate for new legislation that would negate the requirement to do so.

The Biden administration has been unable to move forward power sector greenhouse gas regulations given the legal uncertainty:

  • The SCOTUS ruling may reduce the immediate legal uncertainty concerning the scope of EPA's authority, allowing the agency to move forward with new regulations—although reduced in scope.

"Wind and solar growth is expected to accelerate even absent new federal regulations, supported by state mandates, corporate decarbonization ambitions and market fundamentals." - Patrick Luckow, director, North American power and renewables, S&P Global Commodity Insights

Ask Patrick a question.

Posted 14 July 2022 by Patrick Luckow, Associate Director at S&P Global Commodity Insights and

Xizhou Zhou, Vice President and Managing Director, Global Power and Renewables, S&P Global Commodity Insights

This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.


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