Clean Power Plan Hits Speed Bump in Unprecedented Move by Supreme Court

Guest Blog | February 10, 2016 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

In today’s world of heightened political theatre, it’s hard to be surprised anymore. Yesterday, however, the Supreme Court surprised many by agreeing to stay implementation of the Clean Power Plan before the review by the federal appeals court on the merits of the case.

The Supreme Court’s decision comes after a January 21st decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to deny the request for a stay by the coal industry and coal-dependent states. What’s most surprising is that the Supreme Court has never before halted implementation and compliance efforts for a regulation that is still awaiting review by a federal appeals court. Ultimately, the movement towards creating a cleaner electric generating sector will continue as utilities respond to market realities and customer demand for cheaper, cleaner energy sources. 

The Clean Power Plan has been beleaguered by the coal industry, political interests and states who continue to rely on this outdated, increasingly expensive energy source and are desperate to remain relevant in a changing energy market. In our own Southeastern region, we’ve seen governors, utilities, state regulatory agencies and coal interests throw everything but the kitchen sink at our country’s first, historic public health regulation aimed at curbing dangerous carbon emissions from our nation’s energy sector.

Practically speaking, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision stops the clock in terms of upcoming procedural deadlines associated with the Clean Power Plan. Prior to the stay, states were required to submit either final compliance plans or initial compliance plans with a request for extension by September of this year. Formal compliance with the carbon emission reductions required by the regulation would not have begun until 2022, with the final goals reached by 2030. Now, those dates are likely to change as the Clean Power Plan makes its way through the court system.

It is important to remember that the actual merits of the challenge and the legality of the Clean Power Plan have not been addressed. Currently, the case is pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously agreed to expedite review of the case and will begin hearing arguments on June 2 – an extremely fast timeline given the normal snail’s pace of such complex litigation. Although it remains unclear the exact timeline for legal review, it seems likely that the D.C. Circuit will conduct its review and issue its order as fast as possible given that ultimate review by the Supreme Court is extremely likely. Depending on how fast the lower court reviews the merits of the case, we could see the Clean Power Plan taken up by the Supreme Court in its nine month term that begins this October.

While the coal industry and its supporters celebrate yesterday’s decision, those of us more in touch with today’s changing energy landscape remain hopeful that no matter how the case is ultimately decided, our energy sector will continue to reduce its carbon emissions and increase the availability of affordable, safe energy sources like solar and wind power. Many of our states are moving ahead with utility-scale solar projects and developing high-voltage transmission lines that will bring cheap wind energy into our region. Our state agencies, cities and community leaders will continue to push for increased opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and savings for customers, especially those that continually struggle to meet high electricity bills due to inefficient homes and outdated appliances.

SACE will continue to track this issue and, as always, will continue to advocate for clean energy solutions that meet our region’s energy needs and help keep customer costs down.

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