U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Obama's Clean Power Plan

The Fayette coal plant outside Austin is a major contributor of greenhouse gases.  In August, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, which targeted the nation's more than 600 coal-burning power plants. This is his most determined effort yet to tackle the effects of global warming by reshaping the nation’s power sector.
The Fayette coal plant outside Austin is a major contributor of greenhouse gases. In August, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, which targeted the nation's more than 600 coal-burning power plants. This is his most determined effort yet to tackle the effects of global warming by reshaping the nation’s power sector.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday granted a request from Texas and more than two dozen other states to block President Obama’s Clean Power Plan as a widespread legal challenge against the controversial climate change-combatting rule plays out.

The stay comes a month after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the same request from a coalition of nearly 30 states that are suing over the plan — which is being led by Texas and West Virginia — while setting oral arguments in the case for June 2.

The Clean Power Plan "is stayed pending disposition of the applicants’ petitions for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit," according to a one-page order the country's highest civil court issued Tuesday. Without the stay, states would have until Sept. 6 to submit final compliance plans or apply for an extension. 

The order noted that left-leaning justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have denied the request.

 

State leaders have argued that the president's state-by-state plan to combat climate change by slashing emissions from power plants could push electricity costs too high and threaten reliability. That largely would be achieved through a shift from coal-fired power to natural gas and renewable sources in coming years.

The rule,  Obama’s most ambitious effort to combat climate change, allows states to achieve the reductions however they see fit. 

Environmental groups lamented the decision Tuesday, describing it as a disappointing surprise, while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton heralded it as "a major victory for Americans who feared the loss of their jobs, not to mention anyone concerned over the potential of skyrocketing electric bills and the overall quality of our electric grid."

"The Obama Administration clearly exceeded its authority in imposing this plan, which would cost taxpayers and consumers alike hard-earned money in exchange for less-reliable service," Paxton said.

The court has rarely sided with Texas on environmental matters while Obama has been in office. The Environmental Defense Fund, which is a party in the case, described its decision Tuesday as “highly unusual.”

“Today’s court decision is unfortunate but does not reflect a decision on the merits,” said Vickie Patton, the group’s general counsel. “The Clean Power Plan has a firm anchor in our nation’s clean air laws and a strong scientific record, and we look forward to presenting our case on the merits in the courts.”

Under the rule, Texas would have to cut an annual average of 51 million tons of carbon dioxide to reach its federal target, a reduction of about 21 percent from 2012 emissions. Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that directly contributes to climate change.

While the regulation irritates Republicans, proponents of it — backed by early analyses — suggest that market forces and existing policies alone would push Texas most of the way toward its target.

 

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