The Clean Power Plan’s Day in Court


By Elizabeth A. Stanton

Cross-posted from the author’s blog, and at our sister blog Triple Crisis

In one week, the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals will begin hearing oral arguments regarding the Clean Power Plan—that’s the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants that the Supreme Court put on hold in February. In staying the rule, the Supreme Court flagged concerns that EPA had failed to take the rule’s economic impacts into account. The 27 states challenging the rule have focused their arguments instead on its legal niceties claiming that the federal government is overstepping its authority.

Of the 27 states suing the EPA, 21 have already achieved their 2024 emission reduction targets and 18 have enacted policies that put them on track to reach their 2030 targets. Reuters quotes EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as saying, “We are seeing reductions earlier than we ever expected. It’s a great sign that the market has already shifted and people are invested in the newer technologies, even while we are in litigation.” Economics are driving large-scale adoption of wind and solar generation around the country at the same time that low natural gas prices mean less reliance on coal-fired generators.

Carbon emission are falling and will continue to fall in the electric sector—without help from federal climate regulation. But in the absence of a strong national climate policy these reductions will not cut emissions quickly enough for the United States to play its essential role in keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. It is no exaggeration to say that the decisions made by the D.C. Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court will set a precedent for federal regulation of carbon pollution that will have long lasting impacts felt around the world.

The quality of public debate sparked by the Clean Power Plan’s day in court will benefit from a grounding in facts not just about climate change and the U.S. role in changing the composition of our global atmosphere, but also in the legal issues at the core of the challenge to and stay of the rule. Here’s some recommended reading to that end:

·        A helpful blog piece from the Institute for Policy Integrity explaining the challenge in the context of U.S. law and history

·        A brief history lesson from the Law360 website describing the U.S. legal decisions that paved the way for the Clean Power Plan