Only a few weeks after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit shut down a multi-state plea to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) – the Obama administration’s landmark course of action for reducing carbon pollution from power plants – the Supreme Court has decided to issue a stay on the plan’s implementation.
When the EPA published the finalized CPP in the Federal Register in October, a coalition of states, led by West Virginia and Texas, challenged the plan by filing a lawsuit that claimed the rule could have “devastating impacts upon the states and their citizens.” In turn, CPP supporters, including the Environmental Defense Fund, fought against the stay by filing in federal appeals court.
The EPA’s plan, which was first released in 2014 and finalized last August, calls for reducing carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector 32% below 2005 levels by increasing the efficiency of coal-fired power plants; shifting generation from coal- and oil-fired power plants to gas-fired power plants; and boosting electricity generation from non-emitting renewable sources, including wind and solar power.
In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the objecting states’ request for a stay of the CPP while the legal battle is sorted out. However, in this latest decision, dated Feb. 9, the Supreme Court says the CPP is “stayed pending disposition of the applicants’ petitions for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and disposition of the application’s petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is sought.”
“If a writ of certiorari is sought and the Court denies the petition, this order shall terminate automatically. If the Court grants the petition for a writ of certiorari, this order shall terminate when the Court enters its judgment. Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan would deny the application.”
In a statement from Press Secretary Josh Earnest, the White House notes its disagreement with the decision but says the Obama administration plans to “continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions.”
“We remain confident that we will prevail on the 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,” says the administration.
Claiming the EPA had “exceeded its authority” with the plan and calling the Supreme Court decision a “major victory” for West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey – the state’s attorney general – says in a release, “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 adds that the D.C. Circuit Court is going to “hear oral arguments of the states’ case on June 2.”
“A final ruling from that court might not come for months, and without the stay, the administration’s plan would have caused even more destruction of untold numbers of jobs, skyrocketing electricity bills and the weakening of the nation’s electric grid,” he says.
Tom Kiernan, president and CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), says although the “American wind industry is disappointed” with the stay, it does not signal the end of the EPA’s plan.
“[The] 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,” Kiernan explains in a release. “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.”
Likewise, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has expressed its disappointment but, at the same time, remains optimistic.
“We are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision because, at least for now, it puts a stop to a rule that addresses our nation’s and the world’s most pressing environmental threat,” states Dan Whitten, SEIA’s vice president of communications.
“That said, we are confident that utilities and many states will move forward with plans for a clean energy future and that solar will continue to play a strong and growing role in America’s electricity mix.”
Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel of the Sierra Club, adds in a statement that the decision marks a CPP pause, rather than a complete overturn.
“The Supreme Court has already upheld the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act, and we believe that the Clean Power Plan is a valid exercise of that authority. We fully expect the Clean Power Plan to ultimately prevail in the courts.”