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Texas to Sue Feds Over "Clean Power Plan"

Attorney General Ken Paxton says he plans to sue the Obama administration over the proposed “Clean Power Plan,” its sweeping plan to combat climate change by slashing carbon emissions from power plants.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the grand opening of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's new Austin building on April 21, 2015.

Texas is girding for another legal showdown with the federal government.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that he plans to sue the Obama administration over the proposed “Clean Power Plan,” its plan to combat climate change by slashing carbon emissions from power plants.

“Texas has proven we can improve air quality without damaging our economy or Texans’ pocketbooks,” the Republican said in a statement, claiming the rules would threaten the power grid and increase electric prices. “I will fight this ill-conceived effort that threatens the livelihood and quality of life of all Texans.”

Using those arguments over the past year, the state’s Republican leadership has loudly panned the proposal, which would require the state to cut close to 200 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next two decades however it sees fit. 

Environmental and health advocates say limiting the greenhouse gas would help fight climate change, bolster public health and conserve water in parched Texas, and they suggest that opponents are exaggerating the economic burdens. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency suggests that Texas could meet its goal through a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, adding more renewable resources and bolstering energy efficiency. Under the proposal, Texas could also adopt a "cap and trade" program – a scheme in which companies bid on the right to pollute. 

The federal proposal is scheduled to become final in June, and Texas would have one year to submit its plan. But some watching the debate expect the EPA to push back the deadline amid pressure from states and other critics.

If Texas ignores the rules, the EPA will construct its own plan for Texas, though the agency has not said what that might look like. Democrats and others call that approach risky and suggest it would beckon more stringent requirements.

Bills that would direct Texas regulators to adopt a plan are nearing their death in the Legislature.

Fossil fuel interests and 15 U.S. states – not including Texas – have sued the EPA over the proposed rules in a case heard last week in federal court. Judges appeared skeptical of a challenge to rules that haven’t been finalized.

Texas has fared poorly in its lawsuits against the Obama administration's climate regulations, litigation that has cost the state more than $400,000, according to the attorney general's office. In 2013, the Supreme Court declined to hear the state's appeals in two cases it had lost in lower courts: a challenge to the EPA's “endangerment finding,” which states that greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare, and a challenge to rules that limit greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

The Supreme Court also largely struck down Texas' challenge to the EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases from large industrial plants in June. And the state lost its battle against a different environmental rule, aimed at limiting air pollution that crosses state lines, in the Supreme Court in April.

But some critics of Obama’s latest proposal suggest this challenge would be different, because the rules reach farther than others have, dealing with the makeup of the state's electric portfolio, rather than just the equipment power plants run on.

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Energy Environment Politics Barack Obama Ken Paxton Texas Public Utility Commission