On February 9, 2016, the Supreme Court stayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) pending judicial review. Were you familiar with the CPP before the news broke? Learn about the basics of the plan and what we can expect in the future.

What is the Clean Power Plan?
The CPP is a set of EPA regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and a national shift toward renewable energy sources. If the plan is implemented, then the EPA expects annual nationwide CO2 emission in 2030 to be approximately 1.8 billion tons, down from 2.7 billion tons in 2005 (a 32% reduction).

Who Would Be Directly Affected?
Two main players: state environmental agencies and electric power plants.

The EPA claims that electric power plants are the nation’s largest single source of carbon emissions, creating 31% of the country’s greenhouse (GHG) emissions (CO2 accounts for approximately 82% of these GHGs). Under the CPP, power plants would be required to reduce carbon emissions to EPA-directed levels. Mandatory reductions wouldn’t begin until 2022, and final goals would need to be met by 2030.

State environmental agencies would be affected more quickly. They would need to develop plans detailing how they will support and enforce the EPA’s emissions-reduction requirements. These plans would need to be submitted to EPA for approval no later than September 2018.

Why Proponents Support It
Environmentalists, some state governments, and even certain members of the national business community (including General Mills, Staples, and Unilever) have endorsed the CPP. Supporters claim that CO2 emission reductions proposed in the plan will prevent and mitigate the harms climate change could pose to human health and the environment, including increased heat-related deaths, damaged coastal areas, disrupted ecosystems, more severe weather events, and longer and more frequent droughts.

Why Opponents Don’t Support It
Opponents claim the CPP is unnecessary because the electricity market is already changing due to technological advances. For example, America’s total carbon reduction over the past 10 years has eclipsed that of any of other nation, and CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants reached a 27-year low this year.

The coal industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other opponents of the plan believe regulations are too stringent and will lead to lost revenue, layoffs, and higher prices for energy consumers. The coal industry, including coal fire power plants, is expected to feel the strongest negative effects of the plan and has vehemently opposed it.

What To Expect Going Forward
The Supreme Court’s stay of the CPP is temporarily effective pending decisions by lower courts regarding the legality of the plan. However, experts expect that the Supreme Court will hear the case again, once it has moved through the lower courts. Because of this, the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (who passed away just four days after SCOTUS issued the stay) could have an enormous effect on the fate of the plan.

Scalia was one of the five justices to vote in favor of the stay, with the remaining four voting against it. If a new justice is appointed and approved under the current administration, experts predict that the new SCOTUS will act favorably upon the plan if they ultimately hear the case. If a new justice is not appointed and approved until 2017, the future of the plan may ultimately rest in the hands of the next President.

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About the author

Kate Lindekugel
Kate Lindekugel
As an environmental scientist, Kate has more than 13 years of experience including ecological surveys and field studies, functional assessments, preparing environmental reports and permits, data management, stream channel and wetland restoration, peer reviewed research, and coordinating with local, state, and federal regulatory agencies, as well as public and private stakeholders.