Most States Suing To Block EPA Carbon Caps Have Nothing To Cry About

Bill Scher

If you need any more evidence that knee-jerk obstructionism has ravaged the modern Republican Party, here’s one more data point. Twenty-one of the the 27 states suing the EPA to prevent implementation of its Clean Power Plan, requiring cuts in carbon emissions, are already on track to meet the plan’s requirements.

In other words, they have literally no reason to complain, let alone sue.

Yet sue they have. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the states’ trumped-up case next Tuesday. (If the appellate court decides the Clean Power Plan is constitutional, a probable 4-4 tie at the Supreme Court would allow the plan to survive.)

Reuters reports:

Already, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Dakota appear to be meeting the CPP’s early targets. And changes in the power market, along with policies favoring clean generation, are propelling most of the rest toward timely compliance …

To be sure, some states fighting the mandate would have to drastically change course to meet it. West Virginia, which is leading the legal challenge with Texas, still relies largely on carbon-spewing, coal-fired power. And Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming have large gaps between their current emissions and the plan’s mandates.

But, in a reflection of how rapidly the power market is shifting, the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration earlier this year reduced its forecast for 2030 power plant carbon emissions by nearly 11 percent, without factoring in reductions that may be generated by the Clean Power Plan.

The projection for the nation as a whole would be nearly two-thirds of the CPP’s target by 2030, even if the law never takes effect.

Left without evidence that the rules are needlessly burdensome, Republican state attorneys general are leaning on states’ rights arguments:

Cynthia Coffman, attorney general of Colorado, said her state’s likely ability to comply with the CPP’s mandate “truly is not the issue.”

“We don’t have anything against clean air,” Coffman said. “That really doesn’t factor into my decision to say the federal government has gone beyond its legal authority.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said that he sees the Clean Power Plan as a form of federal “coercion and commandeering” of energy policy and that the state should have “sovereignty to make decisions for its own markets.”

Never mind that little Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution. Or that we have a moral imperative as a country to prevent a climate crisis.


The fact that most states will be able to meet the goals without heavy lifting can be used to criticize the Clean Power Plan as too timid. Perhaps with a greater push from the federal government, deeper carbon cuts could be achieved on a faster timetable.


But the rules can also be looked at in concert with the rest of the Obama Administration’s record on climate. Since Congress refused to cooperate for much of his presidency, he resorted to a slew of executive actions, big and small, each chipping away at greenhouse gas pollution. The Clean Power Plan is only once piece of that puzzle, working gradually, easing states into the system to mitigate backlash.


Such a strategy failed to prevent initial lawsuits, but that was inevitable considering the obstructionist mindset of the current Republican Party. So long as the Clean Power Plan can survive Supreme Court review, the strategy may still prove wise, prodding reluctant states into action without stirring up deep resentments among voters that could lead backlash at the ballot box.



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