Court rejects stay on Clean Power Act question

The US Court of Appeals rejected a stay of implementation request from a coalition of 27 states and numerous other groups regarding the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which will restrict greenhouse gas emissions. 

Matthew Brown/AP Photo/File
Rail cars are filled with coal and sprayed with a topper agent to suppress dust at Cloud Peak Energy's Antelope Mine north of Douglas, Wyo. Public enemy No. 1 for climate change and no longer the fossil fuel that utilities prefer to generate electricity, coal has few allies these days but still has friends in Wyoming.

The US Court of Appeals rejected an application to stay the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, a victory for the Obama Administration and supporters of an international climate deal brokered in Paris in December.

President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan in early August last year. In his announcement, he called the plan “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.”

The plan, which would limit CO2 emissions from power plants, was challenged in court by 27 states and a number of corporations.

These states and other interests are suing the government over the Clean Power Plan. In the short term, they requested a stay in the implementation of the law until after the Appeals Court hears oral argument in early June. The Court of Appeals rejected that request Friday.

The Obama Administration maintained its staunch support for the measure, according to press secretary Josh Earnest, who said “We are confident that the plan will reduce carbon pollution and deliver better air quality, improved public health and jobs across the country. We look forward to continuing to work with states and other stakeholders taking steps to implement the Clean Power Plan.”

As Mr. Obama enters his final year in the White House, he has made it clear that confronting climate change is one of his priorities. This December, the United States signed the Paris Agreement alongside nearly 200 other countries, a move that reaffirmed the country’s commitment to managing emissions.

The Clean Power Plan was drafted with the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. According to the EPA, the new guidelines would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 32 percent (of 2005 levels) in 2030. The plan specifically targets the power sector, which produced 31 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions in 2013.

Obama hopes that putting the plan into practice would not only reduce emissions, but spur further development and more widespread use of existing clean power technologies.

But many fear that the new regulations will hamstring the power industry. Those concerns formed the basis of the legal challenge before the court today.

Many of the 27 states involved in suit have interests that will be impacted by the regulations. West Virginia’s economy, for example, is reliant on coal production. The state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is one of several nationwide suing the federal government on behalf of his state.

Mr. Morrisey shared his concerns for the wellbeing of the thousands of individuals who depend on the coal industry, saying “The president’s illegal rule will have devastating impacts on West Virginia families, and families across the country.”

Under the regulations of the Clean Power Plan, states will either have to develop their own plans for meeting reduced emissions targets by 2018, or they will be forced to comply with the federal plan. Five states thus far have refused to submit plans: Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Many critics of the regulations go so far as to call them unlawful. Because states that refuse to create their own plans for implementation must accept the federal plan, detractors call the Clean Power Plan unconstitutional and coercive.

One of the attorney generals involved in the suit, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, issued a statement, saying, “This ill-advised example of federal overreach will kill jobs, result in higher electric bills and create a significantly less reliable electric grid for all consumers.” Mr. Paxton also called the regulations “unlawful” and “bad policy.”

Yet, despite its detractors, the White House is certain that this plan is important. Obama’s action plan states that the regulations could prevent 3,600 early deaths and save consumers $155 billion between 2020 and 2030, among other beneficial consequences.

In early August, Obama illustrated the urgency of environmental concerns in a statement about the Clean Power Act. He said “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”

The US Appeals Court will hear oral arguments on June 2. The issue is expected to make it to the Supreme Court by 2017.

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