Medical groups criticize Supreme Court ruling on EPA power over air quality

AMA, ATS, other organizations advocated for regulation over “global threat” of climate change.

At least two medical groups criticized the U.S. Supreme Court decision that restricts the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions.

On June 30, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case known as West Virginia v Environmental Protection Agency. The court ruled that Congress did not grant EPA the authority to adopt its own regulatory scheme to cap carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electrical power plants.

The American Thoracic Society (ATS) and American Medical Association (AMA), who joined with other medical groups to file a brief advocating for EPA in the case, both slammed the ruling.

“For climate change, June 2022 has been a busy month,” the ATS statement said. “It brought unprecedented flooding in Yellowstone National Park, a severe heat wave with life threatening temperatures in the southwestern U.S. and wildfires, which destroyed lives as well as property across the country.”

“It is baffling that as climate change ravages much of the country, the nation’s highest court would intentionally limit EPA’s regulatory options to address this global threat,” said American Thoracic Society President Gregory Downey, MD, ATSF.

Despite the decision, EPA has the authority and obligation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other industrial sources, the ATS statement said. ATS urged EPA “to use its remaining authority to respond to the climate crisis by issuing new regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector.”

Those emissions are causing climate change and are harming public health, AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD, said in statement.

“Regulating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical for combating the climate crisis and its major health implications, impacting the respiratory, cardiovascular, and immune systems of the U.S. population, with minoritized populations disproportionately impacted,” Resneck said. “The AMA has declared climate change a public health crisis that threatens the health and well-being of all people and supports policies that reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions aimed at carbon neutrality by 2050.

“As physicians and leaders in medicine, we recognize the urgency of supporting environmental sustainability efforts to help halt global climate change and the devastating health harms that it is sure to bring,” Resneck said. “Despite this ruling, we will continue to do our part to protect public health and improve health outcomes for our patients across the nation.”

Earlier in June, AMA members adopted policy declaring climate change a public health crisis that threatens health and well-being for all people.

In the court case, ATS and AMA were joined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Medical Association, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the National Association for Medical Direction of Respiratory Care and the American Public Health Association.