Supreme Court of the United States Halts the Administrations Clean Power Plan (CPP)

On Tuesday, February 9th, the highest court in the land placed a hold on President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.  In a landmark 5-4 ruling, the court blocked the Administration’s plan on regulating emissions from power plants.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drafted up the Clean Power Plan under the direction of the President to limit carbon emissions.  Following the draft, the EPA came under scrutiny from numerous parties in the US claiming the EPA did not have authority to do so.  The EPA countered that the Clean Air Act allows the agency to regulate emissions.  The Mercury Air Toxins Standards (MATS) ruling was also drafted by the EPA as having legal authority to regulate mercury emissions under the same Clean Air Act which was passed in 1990.  Shortly after the MATS ruling went into effect in spring of 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the program citing that the EPA did not take costs into consideration when creating the draft.  This ruling came after the MATS compliance period started. This translated into billions of dollars spent retrofitting, upgrading or retiring power plants across the US in order to meet the compliance period start date last year.  Essentially the ruling on Tuesday got in front of the costs associated with the CPP rather than waiting until it is too late, as was the case for the MATS program.

In the short term, States will not have to submit their compliance plants this September.  As this case makes its way through the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and back to the Supreme Court, any further action on this will not occur until well after the next president is sworn in.  The D.C. Circuit Court is scheduled to hear the case in June of this year.

From the majority Justice Scalia, “It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits. Statutory context supports this reading.

From the dissent Justice Kagan, “The agency <EPA> acted well within its authority in declining to consider costs at the opening bell of the regulatory process given that it would do so in every round thereafter — and given that the emissions limits finally issued would depend crucially on those accountings.”