Why the Supreme Court Decision on West Virginia v. The Environmental Protection Agency Is an Attack on Women

Around the world, women and girls are far more likely to experience harm from fossil-fueled environmental changes and climate disasters like heat waves, droughts and floods. This is because they are more likely to live in poverty and too often lack basic human rights and financial security. With their imperative to protect the widow, orphan and stranger, our ancient texts understood this reality all too well. 

In developing countries, this looks like daily challenges such as women and girls traveling farther to collect potable water and families forced to make painful trade-offs between basic needs after their crops fail.

In the U.S., the environmental injustice of climate change looks like female-headed households couchsurfing or sleeping in shelters or cars after a deep freeze causes their pipes to burst, severe flooding inundates their homes, or fires force them to evacuate. It’s mothers, particularly Black and Brown mothers, watching their children struggle to breathe during asthma attacks triggered by air pollution from nearby highways or heavy industry. 

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s devastating abortion ruling, last week the Court handed down a decision in a critical climate case, West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency (WV v. EPA). The case centers around whether the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act. In a 6-3 decision, the far-right majority ruled in favor of West Virginia, constraining, but not outright overturning, the EPA’s ability to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions driving the climate crisis and dealing a serious blow to executive climate action.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts found that both Congress and the EPA overstepped their authority: The former by giving broad powers to the executive branch, and the latter by using those powers.

As a Jewish, feminist climate advocate, I see this ruling not only as an industry-led attempt to dismantle bedrock environmental law, but as another in a series of dangerous legal attacks on women and girls. It’s a ruling in favor of fossil fuel companies over our ability to live l’dor vador, from generation to generation  

With scientists telling us that in order to avert the most harmful impacts of the climate crisis we have until the decade’s end to slash emissions and keep fossil fuels in the ground and unburned, any attempt to hamstring the federal government’s climate response matters – and it matters most to women, girls, and families.

By dealing a blow to bold climate action just one week after the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health, the Court showed once again that it holds little regard for the rights of women and girls, and the health and safety of families.

To expand the rights and opportunities of women and girls, and to respond to climate change at the scale that science and justice demand, we need to use every tool in our toolbox to confront the climate crisis: legislation, regulation, investment and more.

The WV v. EPA decision will undoubtedly lead the Biden Administration to move slower and with greater caution to avoid future legal challenges. And, sadly, time is not on our side.

While it’s easy to despair, there are still powerful levers of action that we can pull to forestall climate disaster and build a future where all can thrive. Now more than ever, the growing Jewish climate movement, and the broader climate justice movement, must push for urgent action. And my organization, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, is poised to respond.

Through our network of Dayenu Leaders and 100+ Dayenu Circles, we’re organizing and mobilizing Jews across the country to take bold, spiritually-rooted climate action. 

For well over a year, we’ve worked to get our Congress to pass bold investments in justice, jobs and clean energy for all, culminating in 16 rallies outside local Senate offices last year. After months of deadlock, negotiations are finally unstuck, so we’ll continue to offer hizuk, strength and encouragement, to our members of Congress to pass climate legislation through budget reconciliation (which requires only 50 Senate votes) without delay.

In time for the midterm elections, we are also launching Chutzpah 2022, a non-partisan get out the vote campaign aimed at turning out Jewish and climate voters in key states, and making clear to our elected leaders and the public that nothing short of a just and livable future is at stake. 

And, we’re continuing to push the financial enablers of climate inaction to redirect money from fossil fuels and toward climate solutions. I use the term “fossil-fueled” climate disasters because there is nothing natural or inevitable about these extreme weather events. Climate change is largely driven by the oil, gas, and coal companies that for 30 years deliberately misled the public, and continue to delay meaningful action to protect their profits

But fossil fuel companies rely on capital and credit lines, so this Passover Dayenu leaders and partners hosted over two dozen actions outside the offices and branches of the largest investors in fossil fuels urging them to “move their dough.” Through our All Our Might campaign, we’ll keep the pressure on these institutions, while supporting our own communities to shift their communal assets, and stand side-by-side with frontline communities opposing fossil fuel projects in their backyards and on their sovereign territory. 

And while federal executive action may be in dire straits, I haven’t given hope that our nation’s jurists and lawmakers understand the magnitude of the climate crisis, and the mandate of our laws and legal system to address the most urgent issues of our time. 

Writing for the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan writes, “Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change. And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high.” Trust a Jewish woman to call it like it is. 

Dahlia Rockowitz is the Washington Director of Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, where she leads the organization’s policy and partnerships work.