On February 9th the US Supreme Court voted to temporarily halt federal enforcement of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in a divided 5-4 ruling. The plaintiffs in the case include 27 states, 24 national trade, 27 rural electric cooperatives, as well as several private companies and labor unions. This pause will allow them time to prove that the cost of complying with the rule will cause “irreparable harm.” Final court action on the rule is not expected until 2017. This is not the first setback the Supreme Court has dealt to the EPA in recent months. The EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), a regulatory program developed to reduce harmful emissions from power plants, was blocked in June 2015. The Supreme Court determined that the EPA had not given due consideration to the cost of compliance for utilities and remanded the case back to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (D.C. Circuit). A final ruling on this case also has yet to be made.
While the future of EPA’s ability to enforce new air emissions standards seems hazy, most states have a declared a clear path forward for how they will be addressing environmental issues. Twenty-seven states brought the case against the CPP to the Supreme Court, while 18 states and Washington D.C. have filed motions to support it. Seventeen state governors responded to the ruling by forming a coalition to work together on clean energy positions. The agreement, the “Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future” was executed on February 16th 2017. This alliance is unified with republican governors from Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Nevada and democratic leaders from California, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. California Governor Jerry Brown spoke of the new Accord saying, “The whole genius of this accord is we’re bringing together parties, governors of different philosophies. Without having to wait for Washington, we out here among the states can accomplish something very important.” The goals of the Accord include:
With 27 states suing the EPA, and 17 declaring their commitments to a clean energy future, this leaves few that are standing alone. Idaho, Nevada, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania have not taken legal action to oppose or support CPP. Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania have pledged themselves to the Governors’ Accord. Governor Sandoval has spoken publicly of the commitment, saying “I remain committed to pursue policies that will allow Nevada to continue to lead the nation in renewable energy production, energy conservation, and the exportation of energy. Nevada has many energy accomplishments and will continue to seek opportunities that build upon our existing programs and create new pathways to ensure that our energy sector remains one of the cleanest in the country.” State officials from Idaho and Tennessee have remained fairly neutral on the topic. Both states have refrained from entering lawsuits but had begun developing state plans at the time of the ruling. Most of Idaho’s in-state electricity generation comes from hydroelectric power; its targets for CPP are relatively mild compared to others. Jon Hanian, a spokesman for Governor Butch Otter, said the governor would not be commenting on the Supreme Court ruling because Idaho did not join the lawsuit. He followed by stating, “It doesn’t really affect us.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Clean Power Plan has brought strong reactions from supporters and critics alike – few states have remained neutral on the subject. The next Administration will be faced with making decisions that will drastically impact our country’s energy future. In the interim, some states will be working towards delivering on the goals of EPA’s plan, while others hope for a final blow that will save them from any form of compliance.