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U.S. Supreme Court Throws Wrench in Obama’s Clean Power Plan

The Supreme Court has issued a stay on the Clean Power Plan until the appellate courts can settle lawsuits brought up against it.

by Paul Monies, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City / February 10, 2016
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia voted in favor of the stay. Flickr/Stephen Masker

(TNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan, granting a stay sought by Oklahoma and more than two dozen other states, utilities and coal companies.

The court ruled 5-4 to reverse an earlier decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that denied a stay on the Obama administration's plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases from power plants.

The Supreme Court halted the plan until the appeals court could issue its decision on several lawsuits against the rule. The appellate court has consolidated those cases and scheduled oral arguments for June 2.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said granting the stay gives states some clarity. His office joined in the stay appeal on behalf of Oklahoma and the Department of Environmental Quality.

"They can sit back, take a breath and let the legal process work," Pruitt said Tuesday. "I think at the end of the day, the Supreme Court has indicated that we're going to win on the merits, as well. It's a huge step, and something that illustrates how seriously the Supreme Court is taking these types of issues."

David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said his group was confident the rule ultimately will be upheld.

"The electricity sector has embarked on an unstoppable shift from its high-pollution, dirty-fueled past to a safer, cleaner-powered future, and the stay cannot reverse that trend," Doniger said in a statement. "Nor can it dampen the overwhelming public support for action on climate change and clean energy."

In a statement, EPA expressed its disappointment with the stay.

"We're disappointed the rule has been stayed, but you can't stay climate change and you can't stay climate action," the agency said. "Millions of people are demanding we confront the risks posed by climate change. And we will do just that. We believe strongly in this rule and we will continue working with our partners to address carbon pollution."

Pruitt has fought the Clean Power Plan at every stage, including in the draft stage before the rule was finalized last year. Tuesday's granting of a stay from the Supreme Court was his first victory on the environmental rule.

Pruitt said his office has won stays from courts on other Obama administration rules on water and immigration.

"Our involvement in each of those of three signature issues of the president stops them dead in their tracks," he said. "Each of those rules will be dormant and not survive his presidency."

Carbon regulation

Pruitt said Congress, not the EPA, should decide how to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He said the section of the Clean Air Act under which the Clean Power Plan is based is an unprecedented use of that part of the law.

"The EPA doesn't have the latitude to make it up," Pruitt said. "If the policymakers in Washington, D.C., along with the executive branch, determine that CO2 is a hazardous air pollutant under Section 112 and should be regulated, they should pass that law and give that authority to the EPA. Until that occurs, the EPA can't simply make it up and act in the space of Congress."

U.S. Sen Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, called the stay a "major blow to President Obama's legacy on climate change."

"These regulations were the foundation of the president's commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement," Inhofe said in a statement. "The court's action should demonstrate once again to the world that this president has committed the U.S. to actions that are unenforceable and legally questionable."

Little state effect

In practical terms, the Clean Power Plan stay will have little effect in Oklahoma, which already has an executive order from Gov. Mary Fallin stopping the Department of Environmental Quality from planning for the rule's implementation.

Under the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency expects Oklahoma to cut its greenhouse gas emissions rate from power plants 32 percent by 2030. The first deadline for implementation is in 2022, but states were supposed to submit preliminary plans by September. If states don't submit compliance plans, the EPA will impose a federal plan.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma previously said their plants likely could meet the Clean Power Plan goals, largely because earlier EPA rules for mercury and regional haze already forced them to make changes to their fossil-fuel generation.

The utilities continue to study how the rule might affect the Southwest Power Pool, which plans transmission and operates a wholesale electricity market in Oklahoma and parts of 13 other states.

©2016 The Oklahoman Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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