Supreme Court delivers major blow to Obama climate change plan

(Credit: Kim Seng/flickr)

The major U.S. plan to reduce carbon emissions was dealt a serious blow by the Supreme Court yesterday. Justices voted 5 to 4 to halt the implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan while lower courts decide its fate. The plan seeks to limit CO2 emissions at the state level and is a crucial component to the pledge made by President Obama to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 to at least 26 percent below 2005 levels.

Lawsuits in 29 states are challenging the legality of the Clean Power Plan. Opponents argue that the rules implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency on U.S. states are above and beyond what it is allowed to do. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said Congress will act to stop the plan entirely, in a statement supporting the Supreme Court decision.

“This ruling is a victory for the American people and our economy,” he said. “President Obama’s attempt to remake the country’s entire energy sector to further his own climate agenda is more than costly, it’s unlawful.”

An initial challenge to suspend implementation of the plan failed when a D.C. Circuit Court panel, set to hear the case starting June 2, did not issue a stay on the plan. But the Supreme Court stepped in and said the program cannot go forward while the circuit court considers it. And it’s likely the challenge will then head to the Supreme Court. The White House released a statement disagreeing with the decision, and it expressed confidence that the plan will be upheld.

The Clean Power Plan sets larger targets for carbon emissions reductions and allows the EPA to enforce that states meet the targets. Overall, it will help reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent by 2030. Each state would determine how to meet its reduction targets, whether it is setting up carbon markets or promoting the use of cleaner energy sources. It is a major part of the U.S. contribution to the global target of limiting global warming.

The Supreme Court took the unusual step of making a decision before the circuit court heard the case. It is likely in reaction to a similar case where a stay was not issued regarding a rule change that required power plants to eliminate mercury emissions. By the time the rule was struck down, power plants already took steps to meet the new requirement. For the plan’s opponents, the Supreme Court’s intervention is a major victory.

“Make no mistake: This is a great victory for West Virginia,” said Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia’s attorney general. “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.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.