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US Supreme Court Blocks Obama Climate Change Plan

In a 5-4 vote, the court temporarily delayed implementation of the administration's plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's power plants, while an appeals court hears a suit brought by 27 states and business groups.

by Reuters and VICE News
Feb 10 2016, 12:00am

Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA

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The US Supreme Court put on hold President Barack Obama's efforts at curbing carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's power plants — a centerpiece of the president's climate change agenda.

The court granted by a 5-4 vote a request made by 27 states and business groups to block the administration's Clean Power Plan, which required states to develop plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. The court ruling prevents the regulations from being implemented while litigation continues over whether the rules are permissible under federal law.

The vote split along ideological lines with the court's five conservatives voting block the rule.

The White House said in a statement that it disagreed with the court's decision and that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan provided the most flexible, cost-effective path toward delivering improved public health, clean energy and jobs, and a response to climate change. 

"We remain confident that we will prevail on the merits," it said. "Even while the litigation proceeds, EPA has indicated it will work with states that choose to continue plan development and will prepare the tools those states will need. At the same time, the Administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions."

Coal producer West Virginia and oil producer Texas, along with several major business groups, launched the legal challenges in October, seeking to block the Obama administration's plan. The states argued in their suit, which was filed on the day the regulations were issued, that the EPA exceeded its authority by excessively regulating coal-fired power plants and forcing states away from coal-powered generation.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called the decision a "monumental victory," adding that it provided relief to workers and business that would be effected by the rule. 

"Make no mistake — this is a great victory for West Virginia," he said. "We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule's immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues."

Joining West Virginia and Texas in seeking a stay Jan. 26 with the Supreme Court were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming, along with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Mississippi Public Service Commission, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, has long denied the scientific consensus that the climate is warming and humans are the cause.

"The court's action should demonstrate once again to the world that this president has committed the US to actions that are unenforceable and legally questionable," he said.

Related: It's Official: 2015 Is the Hottest Year on Record

More than a dozen states, the National League of Cities, which represents over 19,000 US cities, and environmental organizations supported the EPA's rules.

David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, remained confident that the Clean Power Plan would ultimately be upheld by the courts. 

"The electricity sector has embarked on an unstoppable shift from its high-pollution, dirty-fueled past to a safer, cleaner-powered future, and the stay cannot reverse that trend," he said. "Nor can it dampen the overwhelming public support for action on climate change and clean energy."

Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager turned environmentalist and backer of Democratic candidates, said the ruling pointed to the importance of the presidential election.

"The Clean Power Plan is critical to addressing climate change — our country's most urgent threat," he said. "Our next president will have the responsibility to select Supreme Court justices, and today's decision reminds us how critical these selections will be to keeping our families healthy, safe, and economically secure."

A federal appeals court will hear arguments on June 2 and decide whether the regulations are lawful.

Related: Obama's Steep New Emissions Rules Praised as 'Great Advance,' Scorned as 'Power Grab'

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