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July/August 2022


How One Decision May Affect

Climate Change

A Supreme Court decision with broad ramifications for the architecture, engineering and landscape architecture industries was handed down this summer. On June 30, the ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA indicated that the Environmental Protection Agency had attempted to overstep its authority. In a nutshell, the Court decided that sweeping regulations must come from Congress, not the EPA.
Through the 2015 Clean Air Act, the EPA aimed to cap carbon emissions; instead, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, capped the agency's ability to impose regulations beyond the premises of an individual power plant. The Court contended that the EPA's interpretation of its powers was too broad. The justices wrote that federal agencies must have "clear congressional authorization" to address important issues.
Chief Justice John Roberts used the major-questions doctrine in his justification for the majority opinion. That reasoning could have ripple effects on not only the EPA but other federal agencies' policymaking efforts.
The AIA recognized this curtailing of regulators' ability to act, especially in relation to climate policy. It released a statement in reaction to the court's ruling rooted in architects' duty to protect public interests:
The climate crisis is a crisis of global dimensions, there are no sidelines, AIA believes that West Virgina vs Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a setback in the climate crisis fight. AIA also believes that the decision should strengthen our resolve to partner with and support elected leaders that share our sense of urgency to address the climate crisis.
AIA urges Congress to give EPA the tools needed to allow the agency, and all of the federal government, to meaningfully and holistically reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The Architects' oath to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public requires nothing less.
AIA encourages members to contact their elected officials with their concerns and request that they advance efforts to "reduce, mitigate, and eventually reverse the impacts of the climate crisis."
Likewise,the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) spoke for its members while urging action:
ASLA expressed its disappointment with the recent Supreme Court ruling, which is a setback in the fight against climate change. However, this ruling also emphasizes the need to work even closer with ASLA partners on Capitol Hill to craft legislation that will adequately grant the EPA the authority to regulate existing and future power plants.
According to a 2021 ASLA survey, its members are "at the forefront of mitigating the climate crisis through their climate change-driven design work."
Architectural Record summarized the ramifications of the decision on the industry:
Design professionals and our clients have a stake in this decision because buildings use over three-quarters of all electricity in the U.S. While architects and engineers often design energy-efficient buildings and advocate for energy efficiency through policies and codes, we rarely advocate for renewable electricity generation even though it is central to our decarbonization goals. Along these lines, the ruling undermines an effort to make the energy transition coordinated and predictable. Without a clear timeline for a clean grid transition, it will now be harder to make the case for decarbonization to hesistant clients.
We can and should design all-electric buildings that do not burn toxic, climate-changing fossil fuels on-site, but we need a carbon free-electricity grid to meet our climate goals.
We remain concerned about lthe possible broader implications of the Supreme Court ruling, as it could be extended to limit the ability of the EPA and other agencies to regulate activities that could compromise our collective health, safety and welfare.
But, regardless of how these concerns play out, the ruling doesn't change our professional obligation to the public and the environment. We must continue this important work, embracing our role in solving the climate emergency. Therefore, architects and engineers can and must:
  • design energy-efficient, grid-interactive buildings;
  • use our specifications to promote a market for low-carbon products;
  • calculate a cost comparison of on-site renewables and off-site power purchase agreements for renewables when reviewing projected costs for building operations;
  • advocate for upstream renewable electricity policy at local, state, and regional levels;
  • recommend grants for the development of new renewables through local, state or national programs.
By taking these important steps, designers can help blunt the negative effects of the Supreme Court decision --- and play a central role in tackling one of the defining crises of our time.
This court decision may have far-reaching effects on the A/E/LA industry as well as climate change policy. The Credential follows important issues like this as part of our comprehensive monitoring of changes affecting the industry. We stay current with modifications to credentialing requirements in more than 50 jurisdictions to allow you and your firm to focus on what you do best -- designing buildings, landscapes and infrastructure that creates a better world for all of us.
Our credentials management services (individual and business) are exclusively designed for A/E/LA professionals. We offer consistent value, and you will enjoy time and cost savings that can be effectively converted to billable project hours. Please contact us at 913-608-7880 for a free consultation session, send us a message, or visit
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