The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate emissions from power plants has many concerned about the effects the decision will have on efforts to address climate change and other environmental concerns. The majority opinion of the Court deems that the EPA does not have the authority for a broad cap on carbon dioxide emissions, but rather that only the U.S. Congress itself has such authority. (For more on the specifics of the Supreme Court ruling, see Ref. 1)
While the case before the Supreme Court was specifically about regulating power plants, concerns are that the ruling may be setting the groundwork as a precedent for how much authority the EPA or other federal agencies have over a spectrum of environmental regulations. For example, this fall in Sackett v. EPA the Court is scheduled to hear arguments involving how to determine if wetlands are part of the “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act.
Impact on environmental progress
Regulations have played an important role in driving certain industrial practices to meet regulatory requirements. However, the level of impact that limiting the regulatory authority of federal agencies will have on climate-change and other environmental initiatives is uncertain, as there are other forces driving environmental progress.
A strong driving force toward environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability goals is the increased importance placed on these goals by investors. A recent report by McKinsey & Company  says that leading investors consider ESG and sustainability to be integral parts of their portfolio strategies, and that they have become top priorities for executives in oil-and-gas and chemical companies. McKinsey’s research shows that “90% of the top 20 global chemical companies have public commitments to reach net-zero emissions, near-zero emissions or carbon neutrality by 2050.”
An example of this commitment is a recent announcement by Shell Chemicals Park Moerdijk, a subsidiary of Shell plc (www.shell.com). The company plans to invest “billions” in its chemical complex over the next ten years to reach net-zero emissions and produce more sustainable chemicals. In the announcement, the company cites that it is addressing the changing needs of its customers who want more low-carbon products and products made using recycled materials. The driving force is growing customer demand.
Numerous examples like this appear in Chemical Engineering’s latest business and technology news, showing an increased focus on decarbonization, plastics recycling, storage solutions to better implement renewable energy resources and many more sustainable practices.
Investment management companies are also focused on ESG and sustainability. For example, BlackRock’s (www.blackrock.com) chairman and CEO, Larry Fink, addressed these topics in his letter to CEOs this year , and wrote, “I believe the decarbonizing of the global economy is going to create the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime. It will also leave behind the companies that don’t adapt, regardless of what industry they are in.” ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director
1. Supreme Court Limits EPA Authority to Regulate Power Plant Emissions, www.powermag.com, June 30, 2022.
2. Sustainability value in chemicals: Market tailwinds versus ESG scores, www.mckinsey.com, July 11, 2022.
3. The Power of Capitalism, www.blackrock.com, 2022.
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