Microsoft, Apple, and others ask SCOTUS to allow EPA CO2 regulatory power

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Microsoft HQ (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • West Virginia is taking on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in court.
  • The issue at hand is whether the EPA has the authority to cap CO2 emissions via the Clean Air Act.
  • Microsoft and a multitude of major tech companies have filed a brief in support of the EPA, asking that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) not side with West Virginia.

Microsoft is once again putting its feet in the political pond, alongside an assortment of its peers and rivals, including Meta, Google, and Amazon. They've all banded together to file a brief in support of the EPA, asking that there not be new limitations placed on the agency's greenhouse gas emissions regulatory powers.

To really boil it down: Microsoft and some of the biggest players in Big Tech want the EPA to retain its power to issue limits on greenhouse gas emissions, despite West Virginia's petitions.

In the brief, Microsoft outlines its personal commitment to sustainability. "Microsoft is committed to shifting to a 100% supply of renewable energy by 2025 and being carbon negative by 2030 for all scopes of its emissions," states Redmond's opening line. "By 2050, Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon that the company has emitted either directly or indirectly by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975."

The full statement is a bit longer, so it's worth checking the brief for the entire quote as well as to find out what other companies had to say.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise Microsoft is taking this stance given the company's recent emphasis on eco-friendly tech and projects. It's been investing in geo-exchange fields to combat carbon emissions, experimenting with energy-efficient server cooling methods, and loads more.

On the software side, Microsoft is also helping other companies reach their sustainability goals via offerings such as the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

21 Comments
  • The irony is that Microsoft garners goodwill for going carbon neutral on its own, especially among customers who care about a company's carbon footprint. If that becomes a requirement required by the EPA, then MS loses that. Then it would just be complying with the law, not leading, not doing anything by choice, or anything that deserves respect. Worse, what it's saying is that it wants the costs of making that move imposed on all businesses. Companies the size of MS, Alphabet, and Meta can afford that. Smaller, earlier stage companies cannot. So the true impact of their advocacy, assuming it doesn't only apply to billion dollar and larger corporations, would be to block competition from smaller startups. Not good. I'm not opposed to governments imposing reasonable environmental requirements (in fact, I think that's a core function of government -- protect its land from abuse), but I don't like when it's a result of lobbying by large companies to help themselves by taking competition off the board. The problem with government regulations in general is that is exactly what they do: help the big companies who have the ability to comply and hurt the smaller ones who had not built those new costs into their business plan. Even the larger companies incur the costs, but they pass those along to customers in the form of higher prices, making them a double hit to consumers in both the short and long-term.
  • "would be to block competition from smaller startups." What startup competition would this block? Other than billion-dollar companies with their own massive servers, a lot of farming and industrial companies, and a bunch of crypto "businesses," which industries are going to be most affected? As far as I can tell, other than the companies with massive server infrastructure, Microsoft's competition is not very carbon intensive. The whole point is to increase the cost of using carbon-intensive processes and stimulate innovation to further reduce carbon usage all across the economy. If Microsoft led by example, then pushed for more companies to be forced to do what they did voluntarily, why is that bad? "The problem with government regulations ... help the big companies who have the ability to comply and hurt the smaller ones who had not built those new costs into their business plan." The owners of power plants, industrial farms, large manufacturers, and other businesses in carbon-intensive industries are very, very often huge. I just don't see your argument about hurting smaller outfits.
  • Well said. We need to stop subsidizing carbon/fossil fuels and make them more expensive. Think about the military as an example. Navy’s protecting oil interests are a huge cost. The first Iraq war was about oil in Kuwait.
  • The Navy's energy use is going to be as much about practicality as difficulty developing and even requisitioning new gear that will work within existing systems, to say nothing about politics (internal and Congressional). Same reason anything having to do with the US military is expensive. It would be great to green the military, though. But the Iraq Wars were definitely not about oil. The wars and sanctions made oil more expensive, not less; simply buying oil on the global market would be cheaper. The goals were always clearly geopolitical and (especially in the case of the 2003 war) ideological.
  • Andrew G1, you make valid and good points, but I think you also miss the point I was trying to make. Apologies for not being clear. Here's my thesis on innovation and regulations (separate from MS' lobbying): Innovation is unpredictable and has a profound compounding effect over time. Regulations dampen innovation and therefore reduces the rate of technological advancement over time, causing significant damage to generations of people. Neither you nor I nor even the people who may be working on tomorrow's innovations right now can predict what will change the world. The only predictable feature of innovation is that it's unpredictable. To just list a few examples where I have been involved directly or in an advisory capacity: Repurposing cheap obsolete data fiber optics by stripping the cladding and chemically coating the core with antibodies or aptamers to grab cells and use the same quantum tunneling effect that allows electrons to gate through carbon but with photons to "see" the cells outside the core and cause them to glow. This combined circuit design, optics, and molecular biology in a new way to create a whole new class of rapid field diagnostics using existing and cheap technologies. Genetic modifications to tobacco plants following the decline in smoking so those crops could be repurposed for producing medically important compounds. Credit card processing process changes to eliminate several layers of administration and make it possible to use credit cards for sub $1 transactions without losing money on each one (which in turn has lead to the explosion on NFC payments on phones). New corn harvesting technology not applicable to food, but that reduced the cost of corn for creation of ethanol, lowering fuel costs and (at the time, way before fracking) reducing dependence on foreign oil. Can I say for sure that requiring all companies to meet MS standards on reducing a carbon footprint will block any important future innovations? Not with certainty, but with about as much confidence as the ranger who says no campfires when it's dry -- the risk of massive harm to the forest is too great to take that chance. You can't know which seemingly small spark of an idea will turn into a fire that will change the landscape forever. To put it another way and run with that forest analogy, think of a tree where every idea is a leaf or a flower. Every regulation cuts a branch. This does encourage growth in other areas, but it guarantees that all the leaves and flowers on the removed branch never happen. Now move away from the analogy (because I realize pruning actually helps trees) and imagine that each branch of grows completely different leaves and flowers from the others. Killing these before they appear is a terrible wrong.
  • Sorry, can't edit my post for some reason, but embarrassing brain skip, especially on a tech site that frequently writes about no processor innovations: circuits are obviously made out of silicon, not carbon. Gates allow electrons to flow by using the quantum tunneling effect of electrons to pass through a non conductive bit of silicon when the proper electric field is applied.
  • Ooh, here's a cool one: reusing technology developed to allow U.S. special forces to communicate via radio without their enemies detecting or intercepting their communications, even when they were hiding right under their nose (hiding the communications in the ambient noise floor), which is what created low-wattage digital, spread spectrum communications and gave rise to modern mobile telecommunications. This couldn't have happened if regulations had precluded (even if unintentionally, which they very nearly did) using bandwidth in ways not expressly permitted by the FCC.
  • "Regulations dampen innovation and therefore reduces the rate of technological advancement over time." There's just not a lot of evidence to support this claim. Bad regulations will always be bad, but that's not a shock. Good regulations and regulation-minded taxes aim to reduce economic activity that has big negative externalities. You can ban incandescent bulbs (bad regulation, because there's nothing inherently wrong with incandescent and you can now make high efficiency incandescent) or you can phase out all bulbs over a certain power draw threshold (which stimulates technology-agnostic innovation while providing society with efficiency savings). This is not radically different to subsidizing R&D in technologies that are efficient. The direction of innovation is affected by the intervention, and arguably in a good way. All taxes, regulations and other government actions have unpredictable unintended consequences, but so does inaction. And inaction may make things worse. What innovations will we not have because inventors have to spend their profitable time on climate change mitigation instead of something else the market or society wants? If we didn't spend money on WWII to defeat Germany (which despite popular beliefs actually hurt human living standards despite all the miracle technologies that supposedly came out of the war), what technologies would we have foregone? All government action has consequences, predictable and unpredictable. It takes hard work to figure out which government action is actually worth doing.
  • Remember it is not just the energy the company directly uses. Energy costs are a tax on everything you/companies buy. Energy is about 10% of GDP, closer to 25% if you subtract out non-productive GDP. Energy costs increases makes labor more expensive, and capital good more expensive. This does not even include the cost for "compliance", which is a large fixed overhead for small companies. Increasing compliance in your industry is an anti-competitive tactic, called "smothering"..... a great tactic for inefficient mega-companies, to smother little guys with fixed overhead.
  • Yes, regulations CAN stifle innovation and competition. There's no evidence that they do as a rule. What did we lose by regulating food safety 100 years ago? We lost a smaller population and larger profits for reckless food manufacturers. Was this really some horrible thing that fewer people died? You could even argue that the market would have gone in that direction anyway. But then you'd have to argue that it was worth a few thousand lives. And who knows how much that cost us in the long run - it could have killed Alan Turing.
  • If MS really believed increasing CO2 was a near term threat to our existence, then they would do things like:
    1.) They would shut down XBox, a huge carbon footprint that is not needed to survive.
    2.) Stop all R&D & donate all avoided cost to build free green energy infrastructure.
    3.) Stop selling any new computers....we can get by with what we have, until the crisis is adverted
    4.) Stop selling into any developing economies, and do their best to reduce worldwide GDP, starting with their own company..... economic growth increases CO2e, faster than we become efficient/green
  • That's about the most asinine list of demands that I have ever seen. Tech companies can, and in some cases have, done things to lessen the impact of data centers and other manufacturing processes. They can only do so much though. We need to develop cleaner nuclear and green energies. We also need to seriously limit power from fossil fuels, especially coal. BTW this is coming from someone working in a Natural Gas Power Plant. In the end it just isnt Big Tech's problem to solve, it is on ALL of us. We shouldn't stop advancement of society, but we can try to do things like make computers more efficient which is what every new computer is compared to the last generation of it. If we made no new computers there would be no increase in efficiency, not to mention we would run out of processing resources quickly. Finally, stop selling into develping nations? How does that help anyone, especially those in that nation?
  • Yeah, lol some good points here. GraniteStateColin, to quote a man who was very much into bad regulation, "Judge me by the enemies I have made." Incidentally, the 1930's were the most innovative decade in history. Robert Gordon argues that the [otherwise really bad because of Keynesian effects] regulations that inflated wages drove more innovation [high wages increases the value of potential new capital]. Which brings me to another government intervention that is probably net positive on innovation: fighting recessions. How much human potential is wasted due to prolonged downturns?
  • When government + big Corp. Team up = bad for little guy.
  • Exactly right, Robert. Especially the little guy who has dreams of becoming a bigger guy as an entrepreneur. And for what? Some of those regulations have probably been worth the harm to the little guy. Blocking hydrofluorocarbons that were destroying the ozone layer and actually driving a measurable impact on cancer and human death rates. Stopping coal plants from dumping their pollution in the air caused acid rain and killed all life in many lakes and rivers downwind of the plants. Those were clear problems that we stopped via regulation. But what's the actual goal with carbon reduction? Is it to keep the world colder? Is it to keep the air cleaner? Or is it just to punish oil and coal companies or help lobbyists who want tax dollars to pay them for their alternative energy ideas that are not otherwise economically viable? I have never heard anyone state the actual goal, which tells me it's more a political talking point that falls into the classic tax and punish the rich mindset to garner votes. A lot of small-minded, selfish people think that punishing the "rich" (who are these "rich" people?) will somehow bring them joy, regardless of the damage to the world or the future for their children. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions by itself is not a goal, it's a tactic. Everywhere you turn, there are ignorant people running around talking about carbon emissions with no scientific or economic understanding of the actual issues. Yes, we know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning that all else being equal, with more CO2 in the air, the Earth will trap more heat from the sun. Other than that, CO2 boosts plan growth and historically a warmer earth is wetter and produces more crops and biodiversity (yes, climate change increase extinction rates, but also mutation and evolution). So are forecasts of a slightly warmer earth even bad? As a skier and winter sports enthusiast, I wouldn't like it, but that's personal -- I moved to NH, because I like the cold and the snow. In any other context, I would have thought I was in the minority, because most people are always trying to get away from the snow. I certainly don't see a slightly warmer earth as bad for the earth or civilization. Even if we all agreed that would be bad, then there are other solutions besides doing things that increase the cost of fuel used for energy needed for everything we do and create, like creating biologic or mechanical devices that harvest CO2 (some companies are doing this) or a fleet of satellites with retractable sails that can reduce the amount of sunlight that hits the earth (this seems like the best idea to me, because we could adjust this as needed to regulate temperature over time). Point is, incentivize the goal, not the tactic, and THAT will unleash innovation and entrepreneurs to come up with completely unforeseen solutions to achieve that goal. This isn't a particularly novel concept. It's just that those screaming loudest about climate change, don't actually want to address climate change. They want the power to regulate and control and punish others. Unfortunately, it's the "little guy" who suffers most from these regulations and big businesses that always benefit the most.
  • Colin, I can't hope to keep up with your detailed arguments against environmental regulations and I can't begin to explain how the Oil industry has been subsidized by the world governments for decades, so I will just respond to one of your points. You asked what was the harm of the Earth heating up a little because eveolution and mutations also sped up. This has actually been explained many times. It isn't necessarily the heating up 2 degrees C that is bad (though the hurricanes I have to deal with or the wild fires in the west would disagree), it is the RATE of change that is the dangerous thing. Humans are changing the temperature at a faster rate than the earth's ecosystems can keep up with. Mutations and evolution takes thousands if not millions of years, we have changed the planet in less than 100. You are correct though, CO2 isn't the end all be all. Other impacts of even "clean" power plants like the Gas one I work in are far worse in the long run. We need to find a way to lessen all of these. CO2 is what we can easily track and control RIGHT NOW, but even everyone having an EV is terrible if we all use Coal to get the power.
  • "Even if we all agreed that would be bad," I should hope so, given all the evidence. "then there are other solutions besides doing things that increase the cost of fuel used for energy needed for everything we do and create" What does this even mean? Any action we take has costs and consequences. The price of energy may go up, or the price of something else. We grant patents; these increase the cost of protected products for a certain period of time due to government-protected monopolies. Should we stop granting patents because they increase costs? Food safety regulation increases the cost of food. Should we let a few people die every year to keep costs down? What is the price on terms of innovation? Better deadly food? Governments regulate the side of the road you drive on. Shame on the US government for not allowing left-side driving innovation! Traffic and accidents are worth it! Dupont can't dump toxic chemicals anymore. Sure, the Cuyahoga doesn't catch fire regularly anymore, but imagine all we've lost! Your don't even seem to be interested in the magnitude of price changes. Will energy prices go up by a lot, or a little?
  • Andrew G1 and @Avatar of Apathy, you guys make great points and explain your cases well. Just saw them several days later (I wish Windows Central still let us get alerts when someone replied to a comment). I suspect no one will revist this thread this long after it was started, so I won't hit every point. But I'll still try to do justice to your thoughtful responses: you make points about regulations not being that bad or that there is little evidence that regulations hurt the economy. I would say that historic data refutes that, and supports that removing regulations drives massive economic growth (e.g., Kennedy's, Reagan's, and Trump's deregulations and the economic booms that followed for years after, including the birth of the Internet and Clinton's economy, similarly Johnson's, Carter's, and Obama's destructive regulations and the reduced economic growth or recessions associated with their regulation-heavy policies; or look at other countries to see how growth booms follow removal of regulations -- the historic record is quite consistent). However, I would say, as with most matters in economics, every rule must include "all else being equal." So there might be a case where regulations were added and the economy grew or conversely where regs were stripped away and an economy sank, but we can say almost certainly that is only because the change in regulations was overwhelmed by other factors that had more impact. These effects can still be measured by a careful analysis of what else was happening at the time, and normalizing for other effects. All of that said, I strongly agree with the innovation boom during the Depression. As long as profits can be made, clever entrepreneurs will always find a way to them, but the primary driver there was the economic collapse and widespread implementation of technologies that had already been started but hadn't yet reached saturation -- electricity, telecommunications, cars -- not regulations. These in turn created a lot of new opportunity for innovation as the Internet did for tech companies. I also agree that some regulations are much worse than others. This relates to the point I was trying to make about focus with climate-related legislation and regulation should be on the real goal, and seek to focus on incentives, rather than heavy-handed regulations. But as a general rule (there are probably exceptions), the only good regulations for me are those that force behavior that can't be similarly achieved with incentives. I'm neutral on food safety regs (they're fine, they do some good and the benefit is broad-based, so they're fair), because if there were no such regulations there would absolutely be a private sector solution denoting safe food, like UL or CE certification for ensuring electrical safety on devices. This is because the market would care about safe food (would you buy food that you didn't trust as safe?) and find a way to achieve that without government help. The private sector solution would probably cost less and work better (they always do), but the government being involved in this is OK with me. In fact, think about the way the US handles GMO crops. They're legal. Some businesses promote that they sell non-GMO products. There is a segment of the market that prefers those crops, and this allows both to coexist, per the preferences of the market. Same with "organic" foods. Other than labeling rules (which I do support, and harsh punishments for mislabeling or false advertising -- access to information is necessary for making informed decisions), no real government involvement needed on this. Or health care, the relatively unregulated and not cost-controlled plastic surgery, urgent care, and dentistry have seen massive cost drops due to innovation (not just in tech, but in process and business methods too), while the "essential care", with all its regulations just keeps getting more expensive every year. That is the cost of regulations. On the other hand, it is tougher for market forces to drive positive results as well as, say, anti-dumping rules. It's just too easy for a bad actor to be sneaky and dump trash wherever and push the costs for cleanup onto others. For this, regulations are about the only way to prevent a bad company or individual from harming others. Therefore, those are useful and important regulations. And fines may not be enough, or businesses can just factor in a cost. Jail the criminals. I also agree with your climate points about the rate of change potentially being a problem for certain ecosystems. I don't doubt that there will be an increase in extinctions and a loss of overall biodiversity in the short run (a few hundred to a few thousand years in this context). Evolution can run in days for some organisms (bacteria, think about antibiotic resistance) to up to about a thousand years for other kinds of changes in complex organisms. Wolves evolved into dogs pretty quickly. Because that's prehistoric, we don't know exactly how long it took, but in Russia, they have done something similar with foxes in about 10-15 years. Most changes involved migration, then some cross breeding with related species to enhance desirable survival traits, where individual offspring lacking the useful traits die off and, boom, new species. This kind of change can occur within a few generations. There are no real survival level evolutionary changes that take millions of years to occur. When you talk about millions of years with evolution, you are talking about massive structural changes where the evolutionary path may no longer even be visible, like fish to lizards or hippo-like creatures evolving back to living in the ocean as whales and dolphins.
  • Easy to repeat the bumper sticker slogan, hard to provide evidence that this specific kind of regulation would be bad for competition.
  • 1.) 100% renewable is a lie - They still use VERY brown power during many hours of the year. Just because you produce more green energy in a year than you use, does not mean you produce the amount you need every second of the year.
    2.) This CO2 mandate will simply move more work out of the US to China and India...... China gets a
    free pass for many years under Paris-climate agreement..... and they lie about their emissions.
    3.) If this was REALY a crisis and every CO2e emission mattered.... then believers should stop spending money on anything other than what is absolutely needed to survive..... We do not need entertainment, facebook, any luxury brands, no cosmetics....ect If believers are not completely stopping this type of spending/activity... then they are just pushers of propaganda!
  • Yeah, the unintended consequences of these regulations are far worse than the problem they purport to solve, which as you rightly point out, they don't really solve anyway. And, as I posted elsewhere on this page a moment ago, it's not even clear what the purpose is in reducing carbon emissions, because that's a tactic to achieve something else, not a goal unto itself. Now, if MS or any other company wants to reduce its own carbon emissions, I think that's fine. I even support all those who believe carbon emissions are bad to vote with their dollars by preferentially doing business with companies that reduce their carbon footprint (but with full visibility including your point that they may just be moving the carbon production to another point in the value chain). If enough people care about it, as MS obviously believes they do, this would encourage companies to move in that direction. My objection is really only to the regulations, which robs MS of the ability to promote its strength in this area (if it's the law, then MS isn't doing anything special) and hurts the smaller companies who might otherwise compete with MS who can't afford to take the same up front steps to reduce their carbon footprint.