The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has halted the battle over the Clean Power Plan for at least two months — and perhaps for good.
Last week, the appellate judges ordered that the Clean Power Plan be held “in abeyance” for 60 days while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviews the regulatory edict and sends back status reports. The Obama-era EPA first filed the Clean Power Plan in August 2015, mandating at U.S. power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Since then, however, President Donald Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general and consistent opponent of EPA regulations on power plants, as the administrator of the agency. In March, the Trump administration's Justice Department asked the D.C. court not to rule on the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan constitutes the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants in the United States. They came into being after the EPA officially found CO2 to be a human health danger, as it is one of the gases responsible for causing climate change, and therefore subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
Dozens of states and numerous business entities challenged the Clean Power Plan in court. They argued the plan's timeline did not allow enough flexibility and would hurt states economically—particularly those reliant on coal-fired power plants for electricity.
“The court’s decision today to suspend the Clean Power Plan lawsuit is a positive step forward,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican Congressman from North Dakota, which would have the severest reduction in carbon emissions required by the plan. “The Clean Power Plan was put together without any input from the public, industry or relevant organizations, which is precisely the reason President Trump has instructed the EPA to start over. With the D.C. Circuit still needing to make a final determination on the lawsuit, I encourage them to send this rule back to the EPA where the discussion can begin again in a public forum rather than being decided in a courtroom.”
Supporters of the Clean Power Plan say that Trump is attacking environmental safeguard that will promote American health and ultimately strengthen the economy with new technologies.
“We are in a race against time to address the climate crisis,” Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court is clear that the EPA has a duty to protect Americans from dangerous climate pollution under our nation’s clean air laws.”
Most utilities already are moving toward cleaner energy and efficiency options for multiple economic and planning reasons, some observers have said, so that status of the Clean Power Plan will not affect that.
The EPA was directed by the D.C. Court to file status reports on its own review at 30 day intervals during the abeyance, according to the court document.