Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Game, set, match on plastic bottles

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A former junior Wimbledon champion is challenging her fellow players to improve their tennis tactics — not with respect to the game itself, but with regards to their court-side environment.

Laura Robson, 28, called upon Wimbledon on Thursday to ban single-use bottles altogether or limit players to just one, during a panel discussion at the ongoing tennis tournament, according to The Guardian.

“There are all the players on the practice courts, just taking a couple of sips from a water bottle and then leaving it there. Should there be a fine, maybe?” the Olympic silver medalist asked.

If a single-use bottle ban was enforced at Wimbledon, it could risk rattling 22-time Grand Slam victor Rafael Nadal, Robson acknowledged. The Spanish player is known for lining up multiple water bottles as part of a courtside ritual, The Guardian reported.

Hattie Park, sustainability manager for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, called upon Wimbledon to follow the lead of the French Open, where players were only allowed to have reusable bottles this year, according to The Guardian.

That bottle ban “did not seem to trouble Nadal,” Spanish sports newspaper Diario AS reported. Nadal went on to win his 14th such tournament at Paris’s Roland Garros last month.

But to Robson, it’s not just about the bottles — it’s about making the whole tennis culture more sustainable, according to The Guardian.

“There’s other players who prefer the plastic bags around the rackets after a restring,” she said, suggesting that the solution must involve “slowly but surely changing the mindset.”

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at some of the implications of the Supreme Court’s EPA ruling and how world leaders are responding. Plus: Some fascinating new facts about dinosaurs. Let’s jump in.

Court ruling boxes in feds on climate action

Federal climate regulation may now become much more difficult following Thursday’s Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • The court knocked down large parts of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, a defunct rule withdrawn by former President Trump.
  • The rejected parts of that rule — which was not in force at the time of the ruling — directed the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emitted by power plants as a means of slowing climate change, The Hill’s Rachel Frazin and Harper Neidig reported.

The principle that the court used in its decision “could apply to not just to EPA in the Clean Air Act but to any agency [that tries] to take on an important problem,” Lisa Heinzerling, a professor of law at Georgetown University, told Equilibrium. 

What now? Federal agencies are struggling to figure that out.

  • EPA Administrator Michael Regan told PBS on Thursday that the tool of regulating carbon dioxide emissions in some way “is still available” but that the agency has “just lost some flexibility there.”
  • Regan pointed PBS to his agency’s “suite of regulations that are facing the power sector.” 

The ruling may also endanger attempts by the Securities and Exchange Commission to have companies report carbon dioxide emissions, Reuters reported.  

Behind the ruling, the reason: As important as the ruling was the justification behind it, which rested on a legal concept known as “major questions.”  

This has been a key element in a decades-long rollback of federal regulation of big business, The New York Times reported.

Major use of major questions: The major questions idea — first promulgated by former Justice Antonin Scalia — holds that federal agencies must wait for explicit congressional authority before acting on certain broad policy questions, as we previously reported.

  • The Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday was an example of a particularly aggressive version of the major questions principle,” Heinzerling told Equilibrium.
  • In its decision, the court signaled that “when conservative justices think that an issue is important politically and economically — and they think that the agency is doing something surprising — they will not recognize the agency’s authority to take on the important questions,” Heinzerling added.


The ruling was part of a broad dispute about the reach and power of federal agencies in an era of congressional deadlock.

“When Congress acts to address major policy questions affecting Americans and their livelihoods, it says so clearly, explicitly,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), ranking Republican on the House Energy Committee, told The Wall Street Journal.

“It does not hide sweeping authorities of the executive branch in obscure provisions of the law, as the Obama executive branch tried to argue,” McMorris added.

This idea represents a stark reversal in how the judiciary has traditionally treated action by federal agencies, according to Heinzerling.

  • Under a principle known as Chevron deference, judges assumed “that if a statute is ambiguous, it’s up to the agency or sort of navigate in between the boundaries it’s been given,” she said.
  • But she said the approach is now “to sit and wait for Congress to say something more precise.” 

What about legislation? Democrats have not yet revealed any specific plans to move forward on climate legislation that would close the gap opened by the Supreme Court, Roll Call reported.  

  • Any such legislation would have to be quite specific, Heinzerling said.
  • “Congress would not just have to approve the use of the regulation of carbon dioxide, but specifically, they’d have to approve the regulation of carbon dioxide with the goal of transitioning the energy system in these sort of defined ways.”

But even if Congress passed a law, Heinzerling noted that few laws are so specific that a dedicated lawyer wouldn’t be able to find ambiguity — or a major question — hiding within.

Global leaders: SCOTUS thwarting climate progress

Leaders around the globe are slamming the Supreme Court’s decision to restrict the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

“This is a setback in our fight against climate change, when we are already far off-track in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement,” U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters on Thursday

  • Dujarric was referring to the 2015 global climate accord, in which countries agreed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Creating a ‘livable planet’: The world’s most developed and industrialized economies should be leading the way in bolstering climate action, Dujarric said, noting that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has made this point repeatedly.

“Decisions like [Thursday’s] in the US — or any other major emitting economy — make it harder to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, for a healthy, livable planet,” she said.

Beijing weighs in: Officials in China, the world’s largest emitter, slammed the U.S., the No. 2 emitter, on Friday in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision.

  • China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the U.S. must do more than “shout slogans,” according to Reuters.
  • “We urge developed countries, including the United States, to… face up to their historical responsibilities and show greater ambition and action,” Zhao said. 

Danger of ‘backsliding’: Environmentalists in China expressed concern the ruling could undermine the broader climate relationship between Beijing and Washington, a partnership that is necessary for global climate progress, according to Reuters.

Li Shuo, a senior adviser for Greenpeace, told Reuters that “backsliding” by the U.S. would also reduce the chances that China will transition away from coal. 

“The Chinese side believes there won’t be any quid pro quo on climate between them and the United States,” Shuo said.

Dinosaurs took charge amid ice, not heat: study 

Dinosaurs may have taken charge amid the ice of winter, defying conventional perceptions of the climate conditions in which they thrived, a new study has found.

The study, published in Science Advances on Friday, presented the first physical evidence that Triassic dinosaur species — then a minor group — mostly inhabited polar regions of the Earth, where they regularly endured freezing conditions.   

Turning climate models upside-down: The Triassic period and most of the Jurassic period that followed featured climate-warming carbon dioxide concentrations up to five times today’s levels, the authors acknowledged.

  • This meant that temperatures generally had to be more intense than those of today.
  • While previous climate models suggested that high latitudes during the Triassic were chilly at times, scientists had yet to prove that these regions froze.

Proof in the prints: The study authors discovered dinosaur footprints in specific odd rock fragments, which they determined could only have been deposited by ice. 

A rise to power: “The key to their eventual dominance was very simple,” lead author Paul Olsen, a geologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a statement.

“They were fundamentally cold-adapted animals,” he continued. “When it got cold everywhere, they were ready, and other animals weren’t.”

Weathering the winter: As cold snaps spread from the planet’s poles to lower latitudes — with winters lasting a decade or more — cold-blooded, uninsulated reptiles likely died out, according to the study.

But dinosaurs were already equipped with “winter coats,” co-author Stephen Brusatte, a professor of paleontology and evolution at the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement.

Farewell to unfeathered vertebrates: “Severe wintery episodes during volcanic eruptions may have brought freezing temperatures to the tropics, which is where many of the extinctions of big, naked, unfeathered vertebrates seem to have occurred,” said co-author Dennis Kent, a geologist at Lamont-Doherty.  

“Whereas, our fine feathered friends acclimated to colder temperatures in higher latitudes did OK,” he added.

Follow-up Friday

India bans some disposable plastics, WHO confronts food crisis in East Africa and Russia nationalizes a Pacific island oil and gas project.

India bans some single-use plastics

WHO moves to confront famine in Horn of Africa

Russians nationalize oil and gas project that supplies Japan

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you next week.


Tags EPA major questions doctrine Michael Regan Paris climate agreement Rafael Nadal single-use plastics Supreme Court United Nations Wimbledon
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