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Obama's Climate Legacy Under Fire as Power Plan Faces Test

Obama's Climate Legacy Under Fire as Power Plan Faces Test

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 07:52 PM

President Barack Obama’s plan for shifting U.S. electrical power generation away from coal and toward cleaner sources is an illegal power grab that would force the creation of a “new energy economy,” critics suing to undo the initiative warned a federal appeals court.

The Clean Power Plan would force states to restructure their entire electric portfolios, West Virginia Solicitor General Elbert Lin said during a hearing on Tuesday over the measure’s merits. Eric Hostetler, an attorney for the government, however, said the plan’s approach was reasonable, necessary and more cost-effective to help avert the “devastating harms” of climate change.

The political landscape was not lost on the 10 judges -- six appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans.

“This is a huge case, and it has huge economic and political significance,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh said. “Whole communities are going to be left behind.”

The Environmental Protection Agency rule is a major piece of Obama’s climate legacy and is the cornerstone of the carbon-cutting promise the U.S. made to the world in Paris last December as part of a pact among more than 180 nations. Meeting those targets without the initiative will be difficult, though not impossible. 
 
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt on the plan’s legal viability when it put the program on hold. The court didn’t resolve the issue, setting the stage for a likely showdown regardless of the appeals court ruling.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan Heads to Court: What to Know

Lawyers representing 27 states and more than a dozen industry groups are arguing against the EPA’s authority to impose the rules, which aim to cutting carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Attorneys for the agency say the plan was designed to address an “urgent” threat.

“The emission limit here is a lever,” Peter Keisler, an attorney for the industry challengers, told the judges in Washington, D.C. “It is a lever to force the subsidization of renewable facilities.”

Tuesday’s arguments take place against the backdrop of a presidential campaign in which Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has said she supports the power plan and has called for support to aid the transition and retraining of coal miners. In contrast, Republican nominee Donald Trump has vowed to rescind the plan and other regulations in a bid to bring back coal jobs.

Carbon Targets

The EPA roiled the energy industry when it unveiled the plan 11 months ago. Since then, electric utilities, coal miners, labor unions and business groups have teamed up with the coalition of states to fight the new regulations. The plan dictates specific carbon-cutting targets based on the amount of greenhouse gases states released while generating electricity in 2012.

States, including West Virginia and Oklahoma, began filing suits in October to overturn the measure even though it gives them broad latitude on how to achieve their specific goals. Murray Energy Corp., the biggest privately-owned U.S. coal producer, the National Mining Association, the United Mine Workers of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also filed objections claiming the plan threatens jobs.

The EPA’s assertion of power to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions by setting state-by-state targets is “audacious,” critics said. If upheld, it would give the agency more say over electricity than even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, lawyers for opponents said.

EPA’s Authority

The plan, which broadly interprets the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, attempts to decide the best system of emissions reduction and set carbon-cutting targets for each state, rather than strict limits for individual power plants. States have wide latitude to meet their goals, such as shifting their electric portfolios to phase out coal plants, adopting more natural gas, and incorporating more renewable wind and solar power.

The EPA’s claim that it has a right to abate threats to public health is backed by 18 states, advocates for renewable energy sources and public health as well as technology companies Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft Corp.

The outcome of the legal fight will dictate how much authority the EPA has to continue limiting carbon-dioxide emissions -- especially if the agency moves on to those tied to the refineries and manufacturing facilities. A narrow reading of the EPA’s power could block the agency from adopting market-based approaches for complying with other air-quality rules.

The bulk of the plan’s compliance burden falls on states heavily reliant on coal-fired power. South Dakota, for example, is required to slash emissions by 48 percent below 2012 levels. Montana and North Dakota must also reduce their levels by 47 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

The case is State of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, 15-1363, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).

 

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President Barack Obama's plan for shifting U.S. electrical power generation away from coal and toward cleaner sources is an illegal power grab that would force the creation of a "new energy economy," critics suing to undo the initiative warned a federal appeals court.The...
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Tuesday, 27 September 2016 07:52 PM
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