US Clean Power Plan blocked by Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday put the brakes on Obama’s and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan in a move that has surprised many, particularly as it is the first time the court has blocked the EPA.

The news came just weeks after the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied the application by 29 U.S. states, led by West Virginia and Texas, to halt its progress. They originally filed lawsuits late last October to challenge implementation of the plan.

The petitioners, comprised of predominantly Republican-led states and state agencies, claim the EPA’s plans to reduce carbon pollution from America’s power plants are both illegal and overreaching.

Mike Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said, "We are pleased the Supreme Court took this unprecedented step to protect the states from further economic harm while the courts are deciding whether the administration’s Power Plan is unlawful and unconstitutional. The stay is a signal the Supreme Court has serious concerns with the Power Plan. We’re optimistic the Power Plan will ultimately be rejected."

The White House responded by saying it "disagreed" with the decision. "The Clean Power Plan is based on a strong legal and technical foundation, gives States the time and flexibility they need to develop tailored, cost-effective plans to reduce their emissions … Even while the litigation proceeds, EPA has indicated it will work with states that choose to continue plan development and will prepare the tools those states will need. At the same time, the Administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions."

Under the Clean Power Plan – unveiled last August and which aims to cut carbon emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030, up from the previously suggested 30% – individual states had until this September 6 to submit either their final plans or an initial one with an extension request. Final, final plans were to be submitted by September 6, 2018.

However, the Federal Appeals Court has said, following its denial of a stay on January 21, it will hear challenges to the rule on an expedited basis, with oral arguments scheduled for June 2. On this basis, a final ruling could be made in 2017, which would mean Obama’s successor will be left to respond.

While the petitioners are jubilant on the back of yesterday’s decision and confident of an overall victory, which would see the plan scrapped, there are many who are less concerned. Indeed, energy policy analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, Cheryl Wilson, said, "This might buoy sentiment for coal, but I don’t think there are any practical market implications. I don’t think you would see a utility change their decisions based on this ruling."

Renewables march on regardless

Despite the negative Republican sentient behind clean energies, they are continuing their onward march in America’s energy sector. A recent study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, for instance, found that cumulative renewable capacity is 221 GW.

While hydroelectric and pumped storage represent the lion’s share at 102 GW, solar ranks number three, behind wind, and holds the record for the fastest growing renewable, averaging 60% growth annually since 2008. Its cumulative capacity is 28 GW, comprising 17 GW of utility-scale and 11 GW of distributed systems. This year, IHS predicts the U.S. will install 16 GW of solar.

Meanwhile, corporate procurement of clean energy continues to gain in popularity, as previously reported, having doubled between 2013 and 2014, and again between 2014 and last year.

More importantly, the study found that since 2005, over 40 GW of coal-burning power plants have been disconnected, compared to the 19 GW of new capacity brought online. The authors remark the combination of more renewables and less fossils has not pushed up retail power prices, as one might have expected.

Meanwhile, on February 2, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecast that large-scale renewable energy, including hydroelectricity, will rise to 14% of U.S. electricity generation in 2016.