The Supreme Court ruled today on the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions from new power plants, and if you’ve gotten to this half of the sentence I presume you are a daily reader. Welcome back. The Supreme Court has ruled, importantly, that the EPA either can or cannot curb greenhouse emissions the way it wants. It depends on whom you ask. I first learned of this decision from the LA Times, which reported that Supreme Court limits EPA authority on power plants. Then, balance-seeking perspicator that I am, I read in the other Times that Justices, With Limits, Let E.P.A. Curb Power-Plant Gases. A computer would tell you those sentences say the same thing.
Before we go much further, I should warn you that I do not understand this Supreme Court ruling or its impact on our lives. Right now, the consequences of this decision could be reverberating through time like a retrotemporal reverberating saw—invented 2087, outlawed 2086—or everything might be fine. A lawyer could probably tell you. An expert on global warming could tell you, as, in another sense, could Sen. James Inhofe. The rest of us, who oppose global warming and process the news with the ready tool of speculation, are kind of at a loss for what to think, here.
Am I to believe the LA Times, in which the court actively limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority? Or should I listen to the other Times, which has the justices letting the EPA do what it wants, with limits?
Combat! Kids, here’s a good place to trot out your class notes on nominalization. These two headlines are elementally the same—a neutral version might read Supreme Court Limits But Does Not Destroy EPA Authority—but they present differently at the level of syntax. One difference is that “limits” is a verb in the LA Times and a noun in the New York Times. By nominalizing the act of limiting, the NYT can have the Justices Let EPA Curb, With Limits, and present this outcome as a win for the EPA.
Maybe it is. Again, I don’t know. Maybe I should have researched the issue better, and maybe you should have sought out a more authoritative source. These questions are not answerable. But one other thing we can say for certain is that in the LA Times this morning, the Court limited but did not destroy EPA authority, whereas in New York the Justices did it.
The analogy is imperfect, but that’s like the difference between LeBron Commits Six Fouls and Referees Call Six Fouls on LeBron. When the New York Times reports on what Justices do, it troubles the conceptual authority of the court. It draws attention to this decision as an act of individual people—individual people who have acted kind of kooky lately, and whom some might accuse of being ideologically motivated.
That’s why it’s so important that I understand whether this ruling is good or bad for the EPA. Global warming has become such a morally obvious issue, with a rising sea on one side and multibillion-dollar corporations on the other, that I can use it to measure how crazy the Supreme Court has gotten. Or, if you prefer, who among the Justices has gotten crazy.
According to the New York Times, the wardens outnumbered the inmates and “handed President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency a victory.” First of all, I’m sure everyone at the EPA enjoys working in the President’s agency. “You guys,” Superman said, “We should call it Superman’s Justice League.” No one liked him, but what could they say? Second, the lead from the LA Times tells a different story:
The Supreme Court, in a split ruling, has blocked the Obama administration from requiring special permits for some new power plants, but upheld them for others.
I strongly object to the inclusion of that last comma, which I consider a flaw in the AP style. Also, that doesn’t sound like a victory for the EPA to me. That sounds like the Obama administration got blocked.
So did the EPA win the Supreme Court today or what? I have totalizing theories to update, and I need to know what happened. My third opinion came from USA Today, which went for the confusing compromise Supreme Court limits greenhouse gas regulations:
WASHINGTON – A divided Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration Monday from requiring permits for greenhouse gas emissions from new or modified industrial facilities, but the ruling won’t prohibit other means of regulating the pollutant that causes global warming.
Didn’t even say it was carbon dioxide. Now that’s how you keep down a continental breakfast.