Statement on Supreme Court Ruling West Virginia v. EPA

Today, we at Justice Outside stand firm in our commitment to environmental justice, and join with our allies in the reproductive justice movement, with disability justice and gender justice and LGBTQIA advocates, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color all across the United States. As we call to mind all our allies across these United States, we assert:

Black lives matter. Our communities and our neighbors’ wellbeing matter. Our bodies and our health matter. Indigenous sovereignty matters. The safety of our people matters.

We will rise, again and again, to do the work, to create from our shared vision, and to build safe, healthy, abundant, joyful and just futures for our families, our loved ones, our children, and generations to come.

In today’s ruling on West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court has chosen to sharply limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to use the Clean Air Act to regulate planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, giving a clear path to fossil fuel corporations to keep us hostage to unreliable, dirty, and expensive energy. This comes in the same week as judicial rulings that weaken Indigenous sovereignty (Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta) limit access to reproductive health care and bodily autonomy (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization), deregulate separation of church and state (Kennedy v. Bremerton School District), and interfere with state’s rights to enact gun safety legislation (New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen).

In the West Virginia v. EPA ruling, the Court seeks to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to do what it was founded 50 years ago to do: protect the environment. Both the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s authority have decades of Supreme Court and lower court precedent to back up their validity. A Court that was ruled by the public interest would never consider reversing settled law backed by the vast majority of people all across the U.S. Instead, this court undermines the EPA’s urgent work to regulate fossil fuel emissions. As Justices Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor wrote in their dissenting opinion, the Court is “stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of the power Congress gave it to respond to ‘the most pressing environmental challenge of our time’.” In 2018, the IPCC reported that the only pathway to a habitable future is to keep global warming at bay, by ensuring that fossil fuel emissions are reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach zero by 2050.

Unchecked fossil fuels are the direct cause of climate chaos and weather disasters, from record-breaking hurricane seasons devastating communities in the Gulf Coast, to the raging wildfires that have burned more than five million acres on the West Coast, to the Texas freeze in 2021. Climate chaos impacts everyone, from farmers in the Midwest losing livestock to extreme heat, to fisherfolk whose catch is limited by rising sea temperatures. But the structures of white supremacy in housing, city planning, banking, employment, food availability and health care greatly amplify the effects of climate change among communities of color. Greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollutants hurt communities of color and low-income communities first and worst. Fossil fuel companies have consistently built up their infrastructure in Black, Indigenous and communities of color, meaning that those communities get the double-impact of immediate air pollution and long-term climate impacts. While Black, Brown and Indigenous people are more likely to die or suffer health problems from toxic air pollution from fossil-fueled power plants, the Court is tying the hands of the EPA to rein in those harmful pollutants. And those same communities are already disproportionately affected by fossil-fuel-powered climate change, with impacts like urban heat islands and flooding from both sea level rise and from superstorms. Reducing fossil fuel emissions drastically and urgently is the only pathway to a livable future for all people, and it’s decades past time for rapid transition to clean energy.

As Black feminist scholar and advocate, Audre Lorde reminds us, “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not lead single issue lives.” Environmental justice, racial justice, disability justice, gender justice, economic justice and reproductive justice go hand-in-hand. As climate change intensifies, it is reducing the availability of resources such as food, clean water, health services, and more. Climate change-induced health and wellness impacts disproportionately harm Black, Indigenous and Women of Color , as well as nonbinary, queer, trans, and Disabled People of Color. The dismantling of Roe v. Wade in this week’s Dobbs ruling decimates the fundamental right to reproductive freedom and will disproportionately impact women, People of Color, and people living under the capitalist tool of poverty. People who are denied access to abortion face economic hardship and increased instances of housing insecurity. All of these threats combined impede on current and future generations rights to self determination, connection to clean air and water, access to open natural spaces, and ultimately seek to diminish a life of full and abundant joy rooted in connection to community and planet. This week’s rulings and opinions form a coordinated attack on the health of Black and Brown people, LGBTQI folks, and communities experiencing economic struggle.

The time is now for us to come together as never before, among our intersecting identities, and from the communities we live in, to protect our communities and our future. Momentum is on our side. Let’s get creative about action to support environmental justice, racial justice, gender justice, disability justice, and reproductive justice together:

  • “Recognize that women, children, disabled, and LGBTQIA folks in communities of color suffer unique effects of environmental hazards and advocate for policies that improve reproductive health and pregnancy outcomes. Support the right of all parents to raise their children in healthy environments by advocating for the equitable distribution of green space, walking and biking trails, and playgrounds in low-income communities.” — NWLC
  • “Work to ensure that Justice40 investments go directly to environmental justice communities, cause no harm to environmental justice communities, and ensure robust community input on its applications and enforcement across all agencies to address the deepening climate crisis.” — Climate Justice Alliance
  • Support strong voter protection laws at the state and federal level so that our democracy can be more truly representative. Making sure every voice is heard and every vote is counted is critical to writing and passing strong environmental, gender, and Disability protections at every level of government.

It’s time we realize that we, the people, are far more powerful than an unelected Supreme Court. In the powerful words of Akaya Windwood:

There is a quickening, an awakening going on – I can feel it in my bones. I liken it to a powerful wave whose it is to rise up and come to shore. Land Back, Black Lives Matter, Farmworkers Union, Pride, Equal Rights Amendment, Americans with Disabilities Act, Universal Basic Income – so many movements over so many years. These individual rivers are converging, so now would be a good time to hone our swimming skills, get our rafts/boats/canoes/kayaks in good working order, gather our people(s), and prepare to share our resources, because we’ll need to ride this momentous wave together.

Gather your goodwill, trust, fierceness, commitment, wisdom, love, and fortitude. Get out the fiddles, dancing shoes, drums, beads, and paints. Grab the spades, rakes, seeds, gloves, and watering cans. Dust off the camp stove, shake out the raincoats, find the swim fins, and we’ll probably need some matches.

We have everything we need, so bring your brave and tender heart, and I’ll meet you on the river.

We see you now, we see you amidst our collective struggle, we see a new vision rising.
And we’ll see you on the river.