Emissions, Policy & Regulations

Supreme Court Puts Clean Power Plan on Hold

Supreme Court Puts Clean Power Plan on Hold

The U.S. Supreme Court has stopped enforcement of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan until lawsuits from 27 states are resolved.

In a 5-4 decision Tuesday, the justices overruled a January federal appeals court decision that denied a stay of the rule.

“Although yesterday’s decision is not a final decision on the lawfulness of the Clean Power Plan, it’s certainly an indication that at least 5 Justices are concerned that EPA has overstepped its legal authority,” said Jeff Holmstead, partner at Bracewell Law and former assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Air and Radiation. “I also think the justices were aware of what happened in the MATS case.  By the time the case reached the Supreme Court, the power sector had already been forced to spend tens of billions of dollars to comply with MATS — and the Court’s decision came too late to save dozens of coal-fired plants that shut down because they couldn’t afford the cost of the rule.  I suspect the Court didn’t want to find itself in the same position again.”

According to ABC News, the appeals court is not likely to issue a ruling on the legality of the plan until after it hears oral arguments, which begin June 2. Any decision will more than likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, so a final decision may not come until after President Obama leaves office, the article said.

As the rule stands, states have until 2018 to submit compliance plans to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or request an extension.

The Clean Power Plan calls for states to cut carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Suing states argue that the EPA has no authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, because emissions are already regulated under Section 112.

“Today’s decision does not mean the Clean Power Plan has been overturned, to the contrary we are confident that once the courts carefully consider the merits of these cases, the Clean Power Plan will stand,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). “A stay, however, is disappointing because it may signal eventual delays in reducing both the carbon pollution that is causing climate change and getting proven, clean, and affordable wind energy to more Americans.”

Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel of the Sierra Club, echoed AWEA.

“This is a pause, and we are confident the Clean Power Plan and all of its benefits ultimately will be implemented across the nation,” said Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel of the Sierra Club. “In fact, the Clean Power Plan follows trends that are already occurring in the electric sector and we are already dramatically reducing carbon pollution as we transition to clean, renewable energy.”

Mike Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said the ruling was a positive step for the industry.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court took this unprecedented step to protect the states from further economic harm while the courts are deciding whether the administration’s Power Plan is unlawful and unconstitutional,” Duncan said. “The stay is a signal the Supreme Court has serious concerns with the Power Plan. We’re optimistic the Power Plan will ultimately be rejected.”  

The American Public Power Association was also supportive of the Supreme Court’s decision.

“The American Public Power Association (APPA) supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the legal challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) prior to its implementation,” reads a statement from APPA. “Regardless of their position on these issues, almost all parties agree that implementation of the CPP will result in broad and transformative changes to the electricity industry. Thus, resolving these highly controversial issues will significantly reduce the uncertainty of the program and, ultimately, the costs to consumers. APPA looks forward to a meticulous review and consideration of these matters by the court.”