Clean Power Plan On Hold, But Environmentalists Optimistic

Feb 10, 2016

Environmentalists are disappointed over the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to put the EPA’s Clean Power Plan on hold. But they say it won’t slow progress in converting the country to a cleaner energy supply. 

The plan announced last August lets states adopt an EPA-designed plan, or develop their own plans for cutting carbon dioxide emissions, mainly at coal-burning power plants. But 29 states - including North and South Carolina - don’t want any part of it. They say it’s federal overreach, and would mean higher energy bills for consumers.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court granted their request to delay the rules while lawsuits to block the plan are heard.

"Very surprising decision. Everyone on all sides sees this Supreme Court stay as unprecendented and unexpected," said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says it’s the first time the Supreme Court has halted an EPA regulation before a federal appeals court reviews it.

Doniger thinks the EPA plan eventually will be upheld.  But no matter the outcome, he says the U.S. is already addressing climate change as utilities close old coal burning plants and expand renewable energy.

"The trend is unstoppable, but it does matter how fast this happens, because the carbon pollution that goes in the air, every day, every year, is mortgaging the welfare of our children, of our communities, of our planet," Doniger said.

Charlotte-based Duke Energy is among those challenging the EPA plan in court. But it’s also part of the clean energy trend, closing coal plants and shifting to a cleaner energy mix. Spokeswoman Paige Sheehan says Duke has cut carbon emissions 20 percent in recent years.

"We’re really proud of the work that we’ve done, and we’ll really continue that work whether the Clean Power Plan is in place or not," Sheehan said.

Those kind of efforts have Mary Anne Hitt, national director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, optimistic:  

"There is a tremendous amount of momentum right now towards clean energy. We have a third of the coal plants in the U.S. already announced for retirement. We have wind and solar coming on the grid at record levels, and all of this has happened before the Clean Power Plan went into effect," Hitt said.

A federal appeals court will hear the case in June and it’s likely to go to the Supreme Court next year.