Western states react strongly to Supreme Court stay of Clean Power Plan

Some states stop all work on cutting greenhouse gases but others forge ahead.

 

Arizona’s air pollution agency had planned a full schedule for its meeting Wednesday on President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Environmentalists, electric companies and others were gathering to discuss how the state should reduce greenhouse gases from its electricity sector. But that agenda was jettisoned on Tuesday evening, when the Supreme Court made the extraordinary decision to stay the rule. Instead, “the Supreme Court stay (became) the central issue,” said Eric Massey, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality division director. “Wow, this was not expected.”

States across the West reacted abruptly to the surprising news that the federal rule was now on hold. While some cancelled efforts to devise state plans, others vowed to keep working. More than a dozen states (including Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado) and industries asked for the stay after a lower court had rejected a request to stay the rule and scheduled arguments on it for June.

The Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce emissions from electricity generation 32 percent by 2030, is the cornerstone of President Obama’s effort to fight climate change. It was also the centerpiece of the U.S. commitment to reduce greenhouse gases that helped Obama lead the world to a new international climate agreement in Paris in December.

The courts’ final say on the power plant rule likely will not come until a new president sits in the White House. But in the meantime, states’ reactions varied widely. States with Democratic governors were more likely to commit to climate action and continue working on the rule, while states with Republican governors were more apt to ditch their efforts.

Valmont Generating Station Boulder, Colorado. It's last coal-fired unit will be shut down in 2017 as a result of a state law. By Carolannie. CC/Flickr.

In Colorado, the Department of Public Health and Environment announced it would push forward to develop a blueprint for greenhouse gas reduction to “ensure that the state is not left at a disadvantage if the courts uphold all or part of the Clean Power Plan.” But Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman opposes the rule and was one of the officials from 29 states that had asked the Supreme Court for the stay. She said the decision shows the high court agrees with her that the “federal government is ignoring the limits on its own power.”

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, tweeted his disapproval of the high court’s 5-4 ruling: “As the world gets hotter, these justices appear tone-deaf.” California laws compel action, including a 2015 law requiring that half of the state’s electricity come from renewable power by 2030. “California will not slow down our drive for clean air, renewable energy, and the good jobs that come from investing in green technologies," said Mary Nichols, who chairs California’s Air Resources Board.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said his state is already suffering from the impacts of climate change, such as reduced snowpack and ocean acidification, and “cannot afford to wait any longer for federal action.” And in Oregon, a committee of the state legislature late this week approved a bill that if adopted would double the state’s renewable energy supply.

“There’s a lot that’s happening already outside of the Clean Power Plan,” former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter told High Country News. Ritter has been convening meetings of governors and utilities from across the West to help them understand and implement the Clean Power Plan.

Bill Ritter has been convening Western states and utilities to help them understand the Clean Power Plan. Courtesy National Association of State Energy Officials. CC/Flickr
But Ritter conceded that the Supreme Court decision takes the wind out of the sails of his multi-state effort that had brought opponents and supporters of the rule together. He expected to cancel a meeting planned for next month. He also predicted that all work on implementing the Clean Power Plan will stop in most Western states, including Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, announced he was putting the Clean Power Plan on hold because he thinks it’s unfair to his state. But Bullock vowed to work to address climate change and shift to cleaner energy “on our own terms.” Utah announced it is suspending its sessions with stakeholders and cancelling three meetings planned for this spring.  Wyoming said it would focus the energies of its Department of Environmental Quality elsewhere.

Idaho, which doesn’t have any coal-fired power plants, wasn’t required to make big reductions under the rule.  But the state imports a lot of electricity from coal-fired power plants in other states, and state officials recently had been busy trying to assess the implication of the Clean Power Plan for that imported power. “This rule is complex. It involves coordination among agencies that haven’t had to work together,” said Carl Brown, Idaho’s air quality rules coordinator. “We’ll do our best to go forward, but this is definitely a delay.”

At its meeting on Wednesday, the Arizona agency got all kinds of feedback. Some utility representatives pushed the agency to stop all work, while some environmentalists urged it to continue full steam ahead. Although Massey said meetings with stakeholders will continue for now, he predicted the state likely will hold off on making decisions on the shape of its plan until after the lower court and the Supreme Court rule. “We have no long-term strategy at this time,” Massey added.

Harvard law professor Jody Freeman, who worked in the White House early in the Obama presidency, advised states to keep working on their plans “so they’re not behind the eight ball” if the courts uphold the rule.

She said that opponents to the rule are forecasting that the Supreme Court will eventually reject it because it’s nearly unprecedented for the court to stay a federal regulation when no court has yet ruled on its legality. But she said that’s a premature conclusion, because no court has heard arguments. If the Supreme Court does eventually reject the rule, she said it again will fall to Congress to deal with climate change.  “That’s why the election is so important; it’s not just the president but the Senate and all the rest,” she said.

Elizabeth Shogren is HCN's DC Correspondent.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -