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164: The US Supreme Court's EPA Ruling: Is the Crisis of Climate a Crisis of Democracy?

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About this episode

With the US Supreme Courts ruling on the EPA still sending shockwaves through some quarters of the climate community, we ask in our second special episode this week: is this a sign that the tide is turning against environmental regulation, or should we not  mistake this tide for the stronger current of climate progress?

In this episode, co-hosts Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac, and Paul Dickinson take leave of UK politics (in the most part) and take a look across the ‘puddle’ at what many have described as the devastating ruling delivered by the US Supreme Court on the EPA’s power to regulate green house gas emissions. 

We hear from two very special guests, Gina McCarthy former EPA administrator and now the first National Climate Advisor to the White House, and John Podesta, the founder and chair of the Board of Directors for the Center for American Progress, and former counselor to President Barack Obama.

The incredible Gina McCarthy brings her blend of energy and defiance to the conversation declaring that the Supreme Court’s intent behind this ruling was “ to look at the law in ways that that are so narrow that they they take away opportunities of government to fundamentally protect people in ways that I believe each and every one of these laws intended to do”. 

She asserts that President Biden, while disappointed, remains umoved by this decision and undeterred in his aim to double down on his ambiton to do more, safe in the knowledge that he has the legal authority to do so. 

Her belief that despite efforts on the part of certain actors, the trajectory moving us away from the use of fossil fuels, especially in the private sector, cannot be knocked off course by blips in the road like this recent ruling. 

She concludes: “ Our job now isn't to bemoan that we don't have all the tools we need. It's to drive those tools into the agenda of every single private sector entity and working with states and and cities to drive this moving forward. So I still remain very bullish on our ability to make these things happen.”

John Podesta joins the hosts to deliver his insightful analysis through a political lens offering us an alternative reading of the ruling and the political landscape of US environemental policy, asking an important question:"is the crisis of climate a crisis of democracy?"

John notes how the Supreme Court was purposefully stacked to deliver an anti majoritarian outcome in cases such as West Virginia vs EPA and Roe vs Wade, outcomes which 2/3rds of the US population disagree with. He states, in the case of the EPA ruling:”it creates a context in which the court is protecting polluters against future generations. And this case in particular doesn't end the ability of the EPA, as I'm sure Gina McCarthy noted, to be able to regulate CO2 and greenhouse gases. But it certainly makes it more difficult, more costly to do what the country absolutely needs to do, which is to change its power system to to clean energy.”

While John agrees with Gina that this ruling is not a death blow to Biden’s power and momentum towards clean energy, he states the ruling is: “an indication that the forces that really want to maintain the status quo in the face of the absolute critical need to change, reform, innovate, build out a new economy that's based on clean rather than dirty, are alive well. And they're going to do everything they can to resist change. So Democratic forces can still overcome that. But I think everybody should be concerned and I think outraged, quite frankly.”


Have you enjoyed listening to this new format of Outrage + Optimism? We have had great fun making these last two episodes so as Tom suggests in the show, let us know what you think by dropping us an email at contact@globaloptimism.com.

Christiana + Tom’s book ‘The Future We Choose’ is available now!

Gina McCarthy



Gina McCarthy is the first National Climate Advisor—the president’s chief advisor on domestic climate policy—and leads the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy focused on mobilizing a whole-of- government approach to tackling the climate crisis, creating good-paying, union jobs, and securing environmental justice. 

Previously, she served as 13th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and then as President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). One of the nation’s most trusted and accomplished voices on climate issues, she has been at the forefront of environmental and public health progress in a variety of leading roles for over three decades.        

In her time leading the EPA, McCarthy oversaw successful efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate air pollution, conserve critical water sources, and safeguard vulnerable communities from chemical hazards. She spearheaded the Obama-Biden Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which set America’s first-ever national standards for lowering carbon emissions from power plants, and helped pave the way for the Paris Climate Agreement.  

Throughout her career, McCarthy has advised five administrations of both Democratic and Republican Massachusetts governors on environmental matters, and she served as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection prior to being appointed by President Obama to head up the EPA’s Air Office. As EPA administrator, she pursued innovative global collaborations with the United Nations and the World Health Organization, and on global efforts to address pollution. Born and raised in Boston, McCarthy graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston and earned a master of science at Tufts University.

John Podesta

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John Podesta is the founder and chair of the Board of Directors for the Center for American Progress. Podesta served as counselor to President Barack Obama, where he was responsible for coordinating the administration’s climate policy and initiatives. In 2008, he served as co-chair of President Obama’s transition team. He was a member of the U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Podesta previously served as White House chief of staff to President William J. Clinton. He chaired Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016.

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