Clean Power Plan oral hearings begin today

Editor's Note: The U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit in Washington began hearing oral arguments Tuesday, Sept. 27, in the legal fight over President Barack Obama's plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. The Clean Power Plan, which aims to slow climate change by reducing power-plant emissions by one-third, has been challenged by more than two dozen states along with allied business and industry groups tied to fossil fuels.


On Aug. 3, 2015, President Barack Obama and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Gina McCarthy announced the final version of America's Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) builds on the Clean Air Act by placing the first ever limits on carbon pollution. Under the CPP, the U.S. will reduce carbon pollution 32 percent, and each state is tasked with creating a personalized compliance plan to meet their carbon reduction targets.

Following the release of the plan, some of our country's largest polluters filed a lawsuit challenging the CPP. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court unexpectedly placed a stay on the CPP until they decide whether to uphold the rule. The stay prevents the EPA from enforcing the CPP, but has not prevented states from moving forward with their planning process or the EPA from providing additional guidance.

Like many others, the Center for Rural Affairs remains confident the plan will be upheld. The CPP builds on the solid legal foundation established by the Clean Air Act - a rule that has enjoyed decades of bi-partisan support. The Supreme Court has ruled on three separate occasions that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Additionally, the rule was shaped by years of intensive public outreach and input, garnering an unprecedented 4.3 million public comments that informed the final rule.

Moving Past the Stay

Due to the challenge against the CPP, it must now move through a couple of legal hurdles before it can be fully implemented. One of those processes begins today, Sept. 27, when the D.C. Circuit Court will begin hearing oral arguments. The side that loses the case at the D.C. Circuit Court is expected to appeal, moving the case to the Supreme Court.

While the Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether to uphold the plan, the Circuit Court decision is still important. If the Supreme Court decision is split 4-4, the Circuit Court decision will be upheld. We are likely to see a final decision by late 2017 or early 2018.

Why States Should Continue to Plan Ahead

An important point to understand is the CPP set goals for states, but the EPA was deliberate about giving states the flexibility to design their own state compliance plan. The final rule requires states to submit a compliance plan by September 2018, though the stay casts uncertainty on whether that deadline will remain if the CPP is upheld. However, 20 states have continued working toward a completed compliance strategy. If the CPP is upheld and the 2018 deadline remains in place, those 20 states will be best positioned to submit a plan that works for their unique circumstances and responds to stakeholder input.

Benefits of the Clean Power Plan

The Center for Rural Affairs is among good company in our support for the Clean Power Plan. Polls show 2 out of 3 Americans support the Clean Power Plan, and entities as diverse as major utilities, large and small businesses, environmental groups and public health organizations have voiced strong support for the plan.

Widespread support for the plan stems from the economic, environmental and public health benefits we expect the plan to create. The CPP is projected to prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed work days per year. Our children and grandparents will benefit most from those statistics, as will low-income families and other vulnerable members of our communities.

The savings don't just apply to lives and health outcomes. For states that rely heavily on energy efficiency as a compliance mechanism (an approach we support) by 2030 the average household will save about $200 on electricity every year. Add to this the macroeconomic and environmental benefits of more renewable energy - more jobs, investment in rural economies, reduced water usage, improved water and air quality - and the CPP is poised to provide some major economic benefits. In fact, the plan is expected to provide $54 billion in economic, public health and environmental benefits per year by 2030.

Support the CPP

Complying with the CPP will be more difficult for some states and power providers than others. But the plan was designed to be achievable, and ever improving market conditions for renewables have put many states on track to meet carbon reduction goals with or without the CPP. For those entities who will struggle to comply with the plan, the goal should be to work together to clear their pathway toward more renewables - not to prevent the extraordinary benefits described above.

Are you with us in supporting the Clean Power Plan? Let us know here!