SCOTUS Leads Debate on Coal Company Regulations

Photo courtesy of Kym Farnik, Flickr

The role of the Environmental Protection Agency in regulating energy companies was debated Monday in the latest edition of the College’s SCOTUS discussion series. Professor Sanghamitra Padhy moderated the event, presenting the court cases of West Virginia et al v. United States EPA and Michigan et al v. United States EPA to an audience in the Anisfield School of Business building. While global warming as a whole would be discussed, Padhy said, the discussion would focus on EPA regulation of coal companies.

Padhy began by asking attendees if they understood how climate change works. When the audience unanimously shook their heads ‘yes’ in response, the professor moved forward with the discussion. According to Padhy, there is one central question in regard to global warming:

“Why do we need to take action now?”

“Even though we don’t see it – look outside, it’s beautiful out – this is a very urgent issue,” Padhy said gesturing to the Ramapo mountains visible through the classroom’s windows.

Padhy then screened a NASA-created video visualizing the movement of greenhouse gases titled, “A Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2.” After pointing out the concentration of carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere, the result of industrialization according to Padhy, she segued into the history of humanity’s impact on the environment.

“Human actions have always had an effect,” Padhy said pointing to a timeline projected onto the screen behind her. She tapped on a point indicating the 19th century.

“But it’s here where we’ve lost control. It’s closely linked to the Industrial Revolution,” she said, referring to a spike in air pollution that has risen since the 1800s.

Padhy reminded those in attendance that global warming is both a social and environmental problem before asking for their thoughts on the topic.

“In many ways, climate change is also an issue of injustice,” she said, “because the most disadvantaged take the brunt of climate change.”

Freshman Angelo Pezzino, one of the most vocal attendees, and his apparent disdain for the EPA’s regulation of private companies sparked debate.

Robert Blair, junior, disagreed with Pezzino.

“I think the EPA should definitely regulate coal,” Blair said. “First, look at the technology. It’s outdated. There’s the pollution we’re talking about and coal workers’ life spans are short. We have to look out for their welfare as well.”

Pezzino responded by saying a spirit of capitalism should trump EPA regulations aimed at protecting the health of U.S. citizens.

“They’re laying undue burden on the coal industry,” Pezzino said. “It benefits everyone else, but not them.”

Pezzino said he feared the EPA regulations would force coal companies out of business. Matt Culda, sophomore, said he did not share Pezzino’s vision of a future in which coal companies are forced to close.

“We will still have energy needs,” Culda said, “Companies can fulfill those needs with clean energy options.”

The SCOTUS discussion series will continue next week, offering Ramapo students the chance to debate other issues brought into the popular conversation by recent Supreme Court cases.