Federal Climate Plan Experiences a Setback, but States Can Still Act

In an unprecedented move, a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order that temporarily blocks the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) before it has even made it through the legal process.

The CPP would reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants and is a key component of the United States’ international promise to combat climate change. The Supreme Court’s order came as a shock to many because the Court has never before blocked a regulation that has not yet been reviewed by a federal appeals court.

What lies ahead for the Clean Power Plan?

The CPP will be tied up in litigation for some time. Twenty-nine states and various industry groups have brought a lawsuit against the CPP in federal court. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the case in June. That decision will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would reach a decision sometime in 2017. If the current makeup of the Supreme Court does not change, it seems likely that the Court will strike down the CPP, setting back national progress on climate change and weakening the legacy of President Obama on environmental issues.

In the meantime, implementation of the plan will be delayed. States which otherwise would be figuring out how to comply with the CPP may choose not to move forward with their compliance plans.

What does this mean for U.S. emissions?

The CPP does not require emissions reductions to be implemented until 2022, so the delay may not have much of an effect on U.S. emissions in the near term. Importantly, other factors such as the low cost of natural gas and the fast-declining costs of renewables are already making coal plants uneconomic. Many of these coal plans will close with or without the CPP. However, having a federal backstop is essential to ensure that states do not backslide on reducing their emissions.

Additionally, much of the U.S. commitment around last year’s Paris Agreement to reduce global emissions of climate-warming gases relies on the Clean Power Plan, so this setback may have implications for global climate action. It’s possible that other countries will view this disappointing ruling as evidence that the U.S. is hesitant to act on climate, and will thus scale back on their own promises.

Wind turbines

What does this mean for Connecticut?

Connecticut is one of eighteen states that are supporting the CPP in federal court. Because Connecticut has voluntarily reduced emissions from the electric power sector by participating in RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the CPP does not impose additional requirements on Connecticut. However, we still want the CPP to be implemented to ensure that other states reduce emissions from their power plants, and to ensure that the U.S. satisfies its international climate commitments.

In addition, this setback for federal climate action emphasizes the need for states like Connecticut to take the lead in reducing emissions and establishing strong policies that other jurisdictions can adopt. Connecticut Fund for the Environment is working with the Governor’s Council on Climate Change to ensure that Connecticut meets our goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least eighty percent from 2001 levels by 2050, as required under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act.

Posted by Shannon Laun, energy attorney at CFE/Save the Sound.

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