Supreme Court to hear challenge to EPA climate change rules for power plants
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a challenge to federal regulations over power plant carbon emissions, potentially resolving a years-long legal battle that has tied up two previous presidential administrations.
The appeal has its genesis in an Obama administration effort in 2015 to significantly reduce power sector emissions to address climate change. The Supreme Court blocked those regulations from taking effect and President Donald Trump’s administration repealed the rules in 2017, easing the requirements on the plants.
"Nobody contests that these issues have enormous importance,” the North American Coal Corporation told the court in a brief earlier this year. “What must be resolved as soon as possible is who has the authority to decide those issues on an industry-wide scale – Congress or the EPA."
But earlier this year, an appeals court in Washington, D.C., struck down the Trump administration effort to change the Environmental Protection Agency rules. The decision was a win for environmental groups, and number of coal producing states and energy companies appealed to the Supreme Court.
Though the arguments are complicated and the course through federal courts winding, the issue for the high court boils down to a relatively simple question: Does the EPA have widespread authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to set such rules.
A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in January – on the last full day of the Trump administration – and said that the way the Trump administration handled the rollback of the Obama era rule amounted to a misreading of the 1970 law.
The Biden administration has already said it intends to craft a new rule, and the solicitor general, the federal government's top lawyer before the high court, told the justices earlier this year that “the question whether the Clean Power Plan was lawful has no continuing practical significance, since that plan is no longer in effect and EPA does not intend to resurrect it.”