Lawsuits Greet Clean Power Plan

Published December 11, 2015

Igniting what promises to be a protracted legal battle, on October 22 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Clean Power Plan (CPP) in the Federal Register.

Crafted to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, CPP is the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s strategy to address what it characterizes as manmade climate change. The rules require a nationwide 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, setting state-by-state emissions-reduction targets.

States are to submit their draft plans to EPA in 2016, with final plans due by 2018. States not submitting their own plans by the deadline will be subjected to a “federal implementation plan” designed by EPA.

Within days of the rule’s appearance in the Federal Register, 24 states and several businesses filed suit against EPA. Critics say the plan is an illegal overreach of federal power that will drive up the cost of electricity to consumers and businesses and result in the closure of coal-fired power plants that are critical for reliable electricity.

Questionable Legal Authority

“The Clean Power Plan is one of the most far-reaching energy regulations in the nation’s history,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) said in a statement. “EPA claims to have power to enact such sweeping regulations … but such legal authority simply does not exist.”

Opponents of CPP have attempted to have courts throw it out prior to its finalization, but in the summer of 2015 separate federal courts ruled litigation would have to await publication of the final plan in the Federal Register. With the rule finally published, the issue will now be debated in court and experts believe it will likely reach the Supreme Court. It could take more than two years for the courts to determine the validity of CPP.

Meanwhile, states will have to decide whether to submit implementation plans to EPA. Several states, such as Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin, have stated they will not comply with CPP. 

‘Costly, Ineffective, and Illegal’

“EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan is costly, ineffective, and illegal,” said James Taylor, vice president for external affairs and senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “The plan can only reach its reductions in carbon dioxide by forcing our most affordable and readily available energy options—coal and natural gas—out of the nation’s energy mix.

“The plan is ineffective because EPA’s own data show it will mitigate less than 0.2 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century,” said Taylor. “The plan is illegal because it imposes different restrictions on different states and violates several other statutory provisions. Any way you slice it, the CPP is a disaster.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) says the rule could increase carbon dioxide emissions.

“The reverberations of these EPA rules have the potential to increase global carbon emissions,” Schimel said. “If manufacturing moves to countries like China and India, which rely heavily on uncontrolled coal plants, there is a real potential that carbon emissions could increase globally.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.