HHS, AMA dismayed by Supreme Court's controversial EPA power plant ruling

Providers and the Biden administration say a landmark Supreme Court ruling curtailing the ability to combat climate change will have dire implications for public health. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the American Medical Association (AMA) chided the 6-3 ruling on Wednesday that restricts the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) ability to regulate carbon emissions via the Clean Air Act. The remarks come as HHS created a new climate change and equity office aimed at evaluating the impact of climate change on health. 

“A failure to regulate power plant emissions will lead to increases in asthma, lung cancer and other diseases associated with poor air quality, and in many places, those impacts are likely to fall hardest in already heavily polluted neighborhoods,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Thursday. 

\West Virginia v. EPA centered on the environmental agency’s ability to regulate power plant emissions and focuses on an Obama-era regulation that was dismantled by the Trump administration. 

Many justices agreed with coal companies and several red states that Congress didn’t give EPA the authority to devise the emission caps outlined in the Obama-era rule, which has never gone into effect. 

But the AMA said in a statement that the ruling will harm public health. 

“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. populations,” AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., M.D., said in a statement. “As physicians and leaders in medicine, we recognize the urgency of supporting environmental sustainability efforts to help halt global climate change.”

The criticism comes as healthcare groups have increased their efforts to combat climate change while viewing it as a public health issue.

Back in April, HHS asked hospitals to voluntarily cut their greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050. HHS announced Thursday that 650 hospitals, health centers, suppliers, insurers and professional associations were among those that signed on.

HHS also created last year the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, which focuses on a myriad of tasks that include identifying communities that have a disproportionate exposure to climate hazards and vulnerable populations.