New Scrutiny of Obama Climate Rules 06/30 06:16
Sweeping pollution limits at the center of President Barack Obama's climate
change plan are facing increased scrutiny in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling
that showed that the justices aren't afraid to thwart perceived overreach by
Obama or his Environmental Protection Agency.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sweeping pollution limits at the center of President
Barack Obama's climate change plan are facing increased scrutiny in the wake of
a Supreme Court ruling that showed that the justices aren't afraid to thwart
perceived overreach by Obama or his Environmental Protection Agency.
The high court's ruling undermined Obama administration regulations
targeting mercury and other hazardous air pollutants --- a different set of
regulations from the greenhouse gas limits that Obama is counting on to slow
the effects of global warming. Still, the court's willingness to rein in the
EPA emboldened opponents of Obama's climate change agenda, who said the court
had finally woken up to what they call the haphazard and costly nature of the
environmental regulations that Obama has put forth.
Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity,
which lobbies for the coal industry, said he hoped that following Monday's
ruling, the EPA would withdraw its pending greenhouse gas rules out of
recognition of the limits of its own authority.
"If they don't, I'm sure we'll be seeing them in court again very soon,"
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the EPA failed to account properly for the
costs to industry when it first decided to regulate mercury and other toxic
emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants. The decision sends the case back to
a lower court while leaving the rules in place, but industry advocates say it's
largely too late. That's because many power plants shuttered while others
installed costly upgrades in order to comply with the rule, which took effect
Yet the mercury rules, while an important part of Obama's environmental
legacy, pale in comparison to the unprecedented carbon dioxide limits for power
plants that the White House is expected to finalize in August. Obama is
counting on drastic emissions reductions from those rules to meet the U.S.
commitment to a major global climate treaty that Obama has been championing.
In developing the carbon dioxide rules, the EPA did take into account the
anticipated cost to industry --- $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion, to be exact. EPA
spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said the agency has long considered cost when
writing rules based on the section of the Clean Air Act that's being used to
curb carbon dioxide emissions.
"There is no reason that this court ruling should have any impact on the
ability of the administration to develop and implement the Clean Power Plan,"
added White House press secretary Josh Earnest, using the administration's
nickname for the carbon rules.
Still, those rules face a bevy of other legal challenges, including claims
that the technology needed for power plants to comply isn't yet commercially
available or affordable. Opponents in Congress and the energy industry argue
the administration has failed to prove that such technology has been
"adequately demonstrated" and therefore can't require its use.
Previously, the White House had enjoyed a string of victories defending its
environmental rules before the Supreme Court, including decisions allowing the
government to regulate pollution that crosses state lines and affirming that
the EPA can use the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gases. Monday's ruling
on mercury, which followed Obama victories before the court last week on health
care and gay marriage, offered hope to Obama's opponents that the court was
finally willing to block the EPA from exceeding its authority.
That affirmation from the court provided fodder for Republicans in Congress
who have encouraged states to simply ignore Obama's climate change rules.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of the coal-heavy state of Kentucky,
said the mercury ruling was a "critical reminder" for governors that Obama's
regulations would inflict pain on the middle class. McConnell's office said he
had conveyed to the governors that there would be no consequences to waiting to
see whether the regulations even survive in the courts.
Another factor: Since the mercury rules had already gone into effect before
the Supreme Court ruled against them on Monday, industry groups said the damage
had already been done. Going forward, one opponent said, the court may be more
likely to put a temporary block --- known as a "stay" --- on the carbon dioxide
rules out of recognition that they may eventually be overturned.
Such a move would indefinitely delay Obama's carbon dioxide limits, a key
element of his legacy and his biggest selling point as he urged other world
leaders to commit their countries to reduce greenhouse gases as part of the
climate treaty to be finalized this year in Paris. Already, Obama is on a short
timeline; if the rules aren't firmly in place by the time Obama leaves office
in 2017, his successor could do away with them much more easily.