Earth Day SCOTUS Talk Addresses Clean Power Plan

This week, Ramapo’s SCOTUS discussion series took a look at the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Clean Power Plan in honor of Earth Day this Friday.

The plan discussed guidelines to lower carbon emissions in the U.S. by 30 percent by 2030. The Supreme Court took a look at the EPA and whether or not they would be violating the 10th Amendment by regulating the power plants that would be affected by this new plan.

Issues regarding the EPA have been brought to the Supreme Court two other times in recent years. The first was in EPA v. Massachusetts in 2007, which established that the EPA has the power to regulate pollutants, and the second was Michigan v. EPA in 2014, which challenged the EPA’s ability to regulate the expenses of states on green technology.

The plan’s call to reduce carbon emissions is in line with both a treaty the U.S. has signed with China, as well as the Paris Agreement, which many countries will come together and sign this Friday.

The Paris Agreement is a plan of action to combat climate change that world leaders came together to work on following the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2015 and the failure to come to an agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009.

To keep the climate change of the Earth natural, it must be limited to 2 degrees Celsius per year. If the Earth heats more quickly than that, it is highly likely that recent erratic weather patterns will become more frequent. The leaders at the Paris Climate Conference focused on creating a carbon budget that would determine the amount of carbon that could be released into the air without warming the Earth more than 2 degrees.

Sangha Padmy, a professor of law and society, noted how important this topic was regarding the upcoming presidential election.

“I think it’s an important issue,” Padmy said, “not just because it addresses environmental needs of our time, but it’s an issue that is tied into various other issues because we can only address climate change if we address neoliberalism, capitalism – only if we address issues of social justice and equity, and only if we address the environment.”

“For the last thousands and thousands of years, there has been a natural process of climatic change,” she continued, “but what we’re really talking about is a human-led process of climatic change, because humans have become a factor that is causing the climate to change. It’s no longer natural.”

If the entire Earth were to live an American lifestyle, there would need to be five planets. Even with just a dozen powerhouse countries using the maximum amount of resources, it is the developing nations that are hurting the worst.

“Climate change is not just a U.S. issue that we can do alone,” said Donald Irons, a sophomore. “This involves pretty much every single other country in the world, especially the other major industrial powers.”

The easiest way for the U.S. to cut carbon emissions is to turn toward alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear, natural gas and solar.

“There’s so many new ways coming out that could take the place of coal,” said freshman Samantha Holder of clean and renewable energy options. “I just saw a video on Facebook of a new form of energy that’s being produced by waves and the power of the ocean.”

“What’s happening in our country is we’re scared to talk about climate change. That is our biggest problem,” said Padmy.

In fact, it is a problem on Ramapo's own campus. Several years ago, Ramapo signed a treaty to be carbon neutral by 2020 as part of the Ramapo Green Initiative, a feat that is now impossible since no discussion about it has taken place in recent years, according to Padmy. However, that does not mean Ramapo is not still pushing for more environmentally friendly ways of living.

“What we’re really trying to do is make Ramapo a sustainable place and this cannot happen without students,” Padmy said at the end of the discussion. “You are the future. You are the pillars in many ways.”