Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Monday, February 22, 2016

Emissions Rules Blocked by U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that put a hold on federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The ruling is a set-back for the Obama Administration's strategy to combat climate change. The 5-4 vote temporarily blocks the administration's Clean Power Plan that also mandates a shift to renewable energy.

The effect of the ruling will be to stall the regulations while a court battle continues. The White House, however, remains undeterred, saying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to take aggressive measures to reduce carbon emissions.

What is the Clean Power Plan?

The goal of the EPA's Clean Power Plan is to lower carbon emissions from power plants in the U.S. by the year 2030 to 32 percent below 2005 levels. The plan is designed to meet the U.S. emissions reduction target that it pledged at U.N. climate talks last December. The rule requires each state to submit a plan to comply with its emission-reduction target by September 2016. The administration believes that the U.S. can meet those commitments and take additional measures despite the Court's ruling.

The Balance of Power on the Supreme Court

Prior to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, some observers believed that the conservative-leaning Court would ultimately strike down the legality of the regulations. The Court had previously ruled against the White House's efforts to regulate mercury and toxic pollutants. Now, the nomination of a new justice to the bench has become a hot button issue on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail.

 In this case, several states, including West Virginia and Texas, along with a consortium of business groups, set out to block the Clean Power Plan arguing that the regulations would cripple their economies. While some may view this as an unprecedented victory over the EPA, the death of Justice Scalia may eventually lead to a change in the balance of the Supreme Court.

The Obama Legacy

As President Obama nears the end of his term, the implementation of the plan would further seal his legacy. While his supporters contend the ruling is deeply misguided, others argue that the EPA measure was an illegitimate abuse of power that undermined the authority of the 27 states involved in the litigation. Now, the question remains whether the regulation will be defended by the next president.

 Meanwhile, the Court's order puts the regulation on hold until the lower court case is decided. The overarching issue is whether the rule exceeds the President's authority under the Clean Air Act.

If you are in the Houston, Texas, area and have a legal problem relating to environmental law or oil and gas rights, the attorneys at The Law Office of C. William and Smalling can help. 

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