On June 30, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority issued an unsurprisingly devastating ruling on West Virginia v. EPA that severely limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to make power plants cut the toxic pollution that is driving the climate crisis. Climate advocates and scientists have been watching this case anxiously since 2021, knowing that failing to cut fossil fuel emissions would lead to increasingly destructive climate events such as wildfires, and would hit the most vulnerable communities the hardest.
Despite the clear consequences of hamstringing the EPA, right-leaning U.S. news and politics pages on Facebook characterized its enforcement of environmental protections as regulatory overreach and inaccurately framed the ruling as a win for small government and the economy rather than what it actually is: a victory for the fossil fuel industry and its right-wing allies.
Media Matters compiled and analyzed Facebook posts about West Virginia v. EPA from U.S. news and politics pages between June 30 and July 5 and found that right-leaning pages earned more interactions on their posts during this time frame than left-leaning and ideologically nonaligned pages combined – receiving more than half of all such interactions on less than one-third of total posts about the case.
- Between June 30 and July 5, right-leaning Facebook pages earned the most interactions on posts related to West Virginia v. EPA. These pages had over 338,000 interactions, accounting for 54% of total interactions on posts about the Supreme Court decision.
- Right-leaning pages produced almost 60% more posts about the case than left-leaning pages, and these right-leaning posts received nearly 71% more interactions in total.
- Out of the top 10 posts that Media Matters analyzed with the most interactions, 6 were from right-leaning pages, which often attacked the power of federal regulatory agencies that conservative media have previously villainized for enforcing lockdowns and vaccine mandates.
Right-leaning pages earned 54% of interactions on posts related to the West Virginia v. EPA Supreme Court decision while accounting for only 33% of all posts
The Supreme Court’s ruling was centered specifically on the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act as applied to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was never fully implemented and is not currently under consideration by the Biden administration. As the nonprofit environmental law group Earth Justice explained, the court ruled that “the Clean Air Act did not give the EPA the authority to set emissions limits for existing power plants based on the power sector’s ability to shift to cleaner renewable energy sources from dirty fossil fuels.” The decision rested on the “major questions” doctrine, which posits that courts must look to Congress rather than agencies like the EPA when considering regulations that would carry “economic and political significance.”
In the aftermath of the court’s June 30 decision, right-wing figures celebrated on national TV news and across social media platforms by downplaying or denying man-made climate change, mocking those who reacted negatively to the ruling, and claiming the case will correct an overly controlling EPA. Fox News hosts and guests echoed other right-wing personalities and fossil fuel industry shills, even suggesting that no agency regulation is necessary because the United States already has the “lowest carbon emissions and cleanest water of any of the major countries.”
On Facebook, right-leaning pages celebrated the decision as a victory against federal overreach.
Media Matters found that news and politics Facebook pages posted about West Virginia v. EPA 668 times in the 6 days after the Supreme Court announced its decision. The posts garnered just over 626,000 combined interactions, with right-leaning pages accounting for the majority. Ideologically nonaligned pages earned over 89,000 interactions (just 14%) for 312 posts, left-leaning pages earned about 198,000 interactions (just under 32%) for nearly 137 posts, and right-leaning earned over 338,000 interactions (54%) for 219 posts.
While right-leaning pages had the most interactions, they did not have the most posts. Nonaligned pages made 47% of the total posts, left-leaning pages made about 20% of posts, and right-leaning pages made roughly 33%.
Right-leaning pages produced almost 60% more posts than left-leaning pages and earned nearly 71% more interactions
Facebook's algorithm promotes sensational and divisive content -- a phenomenon that Media Matters has repeatedly documented and one that right-leaning pages have exploited for their own advantage. Despite the Supreme Court decision being a momentous occasion of outrage for climate advocates and those on the left who fear that yet another important tool to address the climate crisis is now partially unavailable, right-wing pages were able to garner more interactions and posts amplifying the decision as a victory for the fossil fuel industry and its political allies.
Out of the top 10 posts with the most interactions that Media Matters analyzed, 6 were from right-leaning Facebook pages
These 6 posts were from Newsmax, Ben Shapiro, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, and Fox News, which had 2 posts. Out of these 6 posts, half contained industry talking points or attacked the administrative state and federal agencies that the right has villainized for enforcing lockdowns and vaccine mandates. These reactions and the sources cited in them further demonstrated the decision as a victory for the fossil fuel industry and its conservative allies which helped orchestrate this result to line their pockets and hinder progress on climate action.
Among the top examples from right-leaning pages that contained misinformation was a post from Ben Shapiro with nearly 22,000 interactions that linked to an article from the Daily Wire. The article quoted Heritage Foundation research fellow Daren Bakst, who claimed that the court had rightfully blocked the EPA from overstepping its boundaries and that only Congress can make certain regulatory decisions under the Constitution.
The Heritage Foundation has received millions of dollars in funding from Koch-connected organizations, as well as considerable funding from the fossil fuel industry, while outwardly denying the scientific consensus on climate change. The foundation has also played a major role in moving courts to the right, and even created a secretly financed program to train law clerks to elevate its views. According to The New York Times, Heritage helped the Federalist Society compile the lists of potential Supreme Court nominees from which President Donald Trump chose to appoint Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Both justices voted to stifle the EPA. However, the Daily Wire article ignored these connections between the conservative think tank, its financial backers in the fossil fuel industry, and the court’s ruling.
The article also quoted Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who baselessly claimed that the Clean Power Plan would “lead to higher utility bills, job loss and overall increased energy prices.” While these regulations were never implemented, the plan was predicted to have cut electricity bills by 7% and deliver up to $34 billion in health benefits.
Many of the top 10 posts, particularly those from right-leaning pages, framed the decision primarily as a victory against the EPA’s ability to enforce regulations – or what Mike Huckabee referred to, in a post that received more than 11,000 interactions, as “the reign of tyranny by unaccountable bureaucrats.” A post from Sean Hannity that garnered 14,000 interactions also linked to an article on his website describing the decision as a “blow to climate extremists” and calling to “unleash American energy.”
The top Facebook posts about the ruling from left-leaning pages, which accounted for 3 of the top 10 posts, criticized the decision while highlighting various grievances with how the court came to its decision and what impact the ruling will have on the communities being affected by the climate crisis.
The top left-leaning post, which was from historian Heather Cox Richardson and had over 61,000 interactions, provided an overview of several recent and upcoming Supreme Court decisions and pointed out that the court set a precedent in West Virginia v. EPA using legal reasoning that was even rejected by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in 2001. She also highlighted excerpts from Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent pointing out that Congress already delegates power to federal agencies to address issues where it does not have expertise.
Another popular left-leaning post about the case from former President Barack Obama, which had over 55,000 interactions, mentioned climate impacts on vulnerable populations and urged Congress to “pass President Biden’s climate and clean energy investments.” Though right-leaning posts received more engagement overall, Richardson and Obama’s posts each had twice as many interactions as the top right-wing misinformation posts.
None of the top 10 posts outlined how, as The New York Times puts it, the case “is the product of a coordinated, multi-year strategy by Republican attorneys general, conservative legal activists and their funders, several with ties to the oil and coal industries.” Some only mentioned the court case in passing – for example, a popular post with more than 16,000 interactions from controversial documentarian Michael Moore referenced the case once among a host of other political grievances in a “declaration.”
The only post about the case from an ideologically nonaligned Facebook page in the top 10 came from CNN. It received just over 12,000 interactions and linked to a fairly detailed article putting the decision in the context of urgent calls from scientists to cut emissions and transition away from fossil fuels, and citing the 2021 report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which called the climate crisis a “code red” for humanity.
Although left-leaning and nonaligned pages were vocal about the gravity of the Supreme Court’s decision, the right was was still able to co-opt much of the conversation on Facebook, shifting attention and blame away from the small group of right-wing figures and industry executives who benefit from the ruling to hamstring environmental protections in the face of the worsening climate crisis, leaving the rest of us to grapple with an uncertain future.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics.
For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here.
The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted from June 30 through July 5, 2022, and were related to the Supreme Court’s West Virginia v. EPA decision We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares).
We defined posts as related to West Virginia v. EPA if they had “EPA” and either of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “Supreme Court” or “SCOTUS.