The U.S. Supreme Court’s order on February 9, 2016 staying EPA’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) will create at least a year of uncertainty about the shape of the future electric power regulatory framework, with implications for states, utilities and other electric power providers, and for the many other stakeholders potentially affected by the CPP. The CPP is the regulatory program issued by EPA on October 23, 2015, that requires states to develop plans to reduce carbon (CO2) emissions by meeting either state-specific mass caps (tons/year) or state-specific emission rate intensity limits (lb/netMWh). The CPP seeks to establish a whole new style of regulation using authority under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.
Supreme Court Halts CPP Implementation
Twenty-nine (29) states and a number of utilities, labor unions and trade associations challenged the legality of the CPP. These appellants sought a stay of the rule from the D.C. Circuit in November 2015. The petition for a stay was denied on January 21, 2016. The appellants then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court — a move that most pundits thought was futile as it is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to grant such a stay. In order to grant a stay, the Court needed to find that if the D.C. Circuit were to uphold the CPP, (1) there is a reasonable probability that four Supreme Court Justices would vote for review of the D.C. Circuit opinion; (2) there is a fair prospect that a majority of the Supreme Court would vote to reverse the D.C. Circuit’s opinion upholding the CPP; and (3) that there is a likelihood that immediate, irreparable harm would result from the denial of a stay. By granting the stay, it appears that five of the nine Supreme Court justices (Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy and Thomas) indicated that they believe there is a fair prospect that they would vote to overturn the D.C. Circuit were the D.C. Circuit to uphold the CPP. The Court’s action prevents EPA from further implementation of the CPP until the petitioners’ appeal is decided. The underlying challenge to the CPP is proceeding on an expedited schedule with oral argument set for June 2 and 3, 2016.
In addition, another factor in the Court’s stay decision was likely the pending deadlines for states to take compliance actions. The deadline for states to submit initial plans demonstrating how they would comply with the CPP was September 6, 2016. While virtually all states were likely to request an extension for plan submittal until September 2018, states still needed to show progress on their plans by this September, and many states, including several of the 29 appellant states, were beginning the planning process.
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