How Badly Did The Supreme Court Damage Obama’s Climate Plan?

Bill Scher

While most of the political world was watching the New Hampshire returns, the Supreme Court Tuesday raised the possibility it would kill President Obama’s ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants.

On a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the Court issued a “stay,” without explanation, blocking implementation by the Environmental Protection Agency until legal challenges against the plan are fully adjudicated.

The Court’s action was unprecedented, issuing the stay before the case had been decided on the merits by any lower court. Even if the White House wins at the lower court level, the stay is in place until the Supreme Court rules, likely in 2017 after Obama is out of office.

Even more shocking is that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 2007 opinion declaring that the EPA has a legal obligation to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. But having voted for the stay, clearly his vote on the legality of the EPA’s specific plan is in doubt.

What’s the immediate impact? The White House notes that the regulatory schedule anticipated legal challenges. The deadline for states to submit their clean power plans is 2018, and the rules don’t go into effect until 2022, but states had incentives to set up programs early.

Some states are already using the stay as reason to sit on their hands, but these are states who weren’t looking to get ahead of the curve in the first place, like West Virginia and Texas. Other states, caught by surprise, are pondering what to do next. But they could continue with their planning if they so choose.

The mercurial Kennedy could possibly flip back to the environmental camp. But clearly, defenders of the climate have to worry that the Supreme Court will sent the EPA back to the drawing board in 2017.

Just one more reason why who gets elected president, and controls the EPA, will literally change the course of the world.

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