SCOTUS Stops Clean Power Plan Implementation - What Does this Mean for States?

On Tuesday evening, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay that stops implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan until the ongoing legal challenges to the rule are resolved by the courts. The 5-4 decision came in response to a request for stay to the U.S. Supreme Court by over two dozen states, utilities, and other industry advocates after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied previous requests to halt implementation of the rule last month. According to experts, this is the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has halted an EPA regulation before a court ruling on the merits of the regulation occurred.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision means that the EPA cannot take action to enforce or implement the Clean Power Plan until the litigation concludes. The lawsuit is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where challengers to the Clean Power Plan have argued, among other things, that EPA does not have the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Oral arguments before the D.C. Circuit are scheduled for June2, meaning an opinion will likely not issue until the fall. Given the numerous parties involved and the unprecendented nature of the regulation, it is almost certain that any decision by the D.C. Circuit will be appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide the issue. In that case, the earliest the rule could take effect would be in 2017, after a new administration takes office.

In response to the stay, the White House issued the following press release:

While EPA will continue to work with states that choose to voluntarily develop plans as the litigation continues, it is likely that states challenging the rule will put efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan on hold pending the outcome of the litigation. Montana faces the largest emissions reduction target of any state at 47 percent and challenged the rule. Yesterday, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced that he was suspending the work of an advisory council appointed to begin complying with the Clean Power Plan. However, in a statement, Gov. Bullock stated, "What we cannot put on hold, however, is the need to address climate change and embrace Montana's energy future, and I am committed to ensuring we do so on our own terms."

Other experts expressed similar thoughts on state reactions. While states may not continue to work to implement the Clean Power Plan in its current form, it is expected that at least some states will still continue previous work to reduce carbon emissions as part of overall policies intended to promote efficiency and reduce enviornmental impacts. Continued communication and transparency between legislators and regulators will also continue to be necessary going forward, regardless of whether the Clean Power Plan is ultimately upheld.

E&E Publishing has conducted an analysis of state responses to the Supreme Court's stay of the Clean Power Plan. At this time, 20 states have indicated an intention to continue planning, 9 states are assessing their options, and 18 states have suspended planning. For more information, visit E&E's website.