The US Supreme Court has agreed to halt enforcement of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan until after legal challenges are resolved, dealing a harsh blow to President Barack Obama’s plan to curb GHG emissions at new and existing power plants.
The court voted 5-to-4 and along the justices’ ideological leanings in favour of staying the CPP, handing a victory to opponents including the coal sector and a coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states that are trying to block the plan over claims that it’s illegal and represents government overreach.
The CPP calls for emissions from the power sector to be cut by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, and lets states devise their own strategies for meeting the targets.
“We disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan while litigation proceeds,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
“We remain confident that we will prevail on merits. Even while the litigation proceeds, EPA has indicated it will work with states that choose to continue plan development and will prepare the tools those states will need,” he said.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican Senator from Kentucky who last year called on state governors to “just say no” to the Clean Power Plan, applauded the decision.
“Today’s Supreme Court order to halt those regulations – regulations that attack the middle class and won’t even have a meaningful impact on global carbon emissions – is just the latest sign they may not be [legal],” he said in a statement.
But Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said he “deeply deplores” what he believes “will ultimately come to be seen as an infamous political action by the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court”.
“Despite this ruling, the 2022 enforcement date remains unchanged at this stage. The decision just suspends temporarily the legal obligation for states to submit their implementation plans,” said IETA president and CEO Dirk Forrister.
Green groups lamented the ruling but noted that it was not based on the plan’s merits, and were optimistic that the courts would ultimately uphold the CPP.
“If there was ever a Supreme Court decision that looked backwards instead of towards the future, this was it,” said 350.org’s communications director Jamie Henn.
“We are confident the courts will ultimately uphold the Clean Power Plan on its merits,” added David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Program.
The suit’s plaintiffs, who include West Virginia, Texas, and North Dakota, made the stay request last month, with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey at the time noting that it wasn’t “typical at this stage of the proceedings”, but that they had to pursue this option “to mitigate further damage” from the regulations.
“We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues,” Morrissey said in a statement released late Tuesday.
The SCOTUS decision means states will probably not be required to file an initial CPP implementation plan by Sep. 6 as required by the plan’s Model Rule, and it could cause any discussions between state officials over developing new emissions trading schemes or linking existing ones to slow or even be abandoned.
“The Supreme Court has made clear in previous ruling that EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Whether or not the court ultimately upholds this particular rule, the need to cut carbon emissions will remain, and states need to figure out the most cost-effective ways to do that,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
The CPP is also to be one of the foundations of US emissions reduction efforts under the newly-signed Paris Agreement, meaning that an eventual rejection of the plan by a court or the country’s next president could see the world’s second largest emitting nation be forced to scale back its climate pledge.
— NextGen Climate (@NextGenClimate) February 10, 2016
A federal appeals court last month ruled against temporarily staying the CPP, meaning that the plaintiffs made a convincing argument to the Supreme Court.
“The stay is a signal the Supreme Court has serious concerns with the Clean Power Plan. We’re optimistic [it] will ultimately be rejected,” said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
The Washington DC appeals court will on June 2 hear oral arguments over whether the plan is lawful, with some legal experts predicting that the case will now stretch into next year.
A vast majority of the 47 states facing targets under the CPP were reported to be looking at cap-and-trade systems as a least-cost strategy to meeting their targets, although specific proposals had yet to emerge.
By Mike Szabo – firstname.lastname@example.org