Supreme Court Deals Blow to EPA's Clean Power Plan, Obama Vows to Fight
Dealing a major blow to President Obama's climate change agenda, the Supreme Court on Tuesday placed a temporary hold on the Clean Power Plan Tuesday until all legal proceedings surrounding it have concluded.
U.S. Supreme court blocks Obama's Clean Power Plan https://t.co/KSzZuAxjGX #climatechange https://t.co/T3X5aZbvBN— Scientific American (@Scientific American)1455113822.0
This decision is not the final word from the justices. The case is likely to return to the Supreme Court after an appeals court hears a challenge made by a group of more than two dozen states led by West Virginia and Texas.
The temporary hold has proponents of the plan worried though, because it's "an early hint that the program could face a skeptical reception from the justices," The New York Times reported.
The White House said in a statement that it disagreed with the court’s decision and remained confident that it would ultimately prevail: “The administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions."
Supreme Court blocks EPA Clean Power Plan, Obama vows to fight on https://t.co/PhBHRshzqL https://t.co/fFIdoiBk1m— RT (@RT)1455083945.0
Environmental organizations were quick to share their disappointment with the Supreme Courts decision.
"The Clean Power Plan is a flexible, economical response to the Clean Air Act's mandate to regulate carbon emissions," Ken Berlin, president and CEO of Climate Reality Project, said. "It is a grave disappointment that the same Supreme Court that made clear that carbon dioxide must be regulated as a pollutant, has now decided to stay enforcement of the Clean Power Plan pending a far fetched legal challenge.
"This disturbing development makes clear that people must demand that their leaders at all levels act on climate. One hundred ninety five nations spoke in one voice in Paris to say climate change is real, caused by humans and must be addressed urgently. There is no doubt that the Clean Power Plan is the United States' path forward to turning the agreements made in Paris into a reality."
The 5 to 4 vote, with the four liberal justices dissenting, was an unprecedented ruling, according to The New York Times, as "the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court."
"Coal industry is on life support already; it was without the #CPP, & this should not give them a glimmer of hope" https://t.co/P536aeJZrN— Jigar Shah (@Jigar Shah)1455072087.0
“If there was ever a Supreme Court decision that looked backwards instead of towards the future, this was it,” Jamie Henn, communications director at 350.org, said. “If left to conservatives on the court, we’ll be stuck addressing climate change with ‘all deliberate speed.’
"Make no mistake, this case was brought forward on behalf of the fossil fuel industry and companies like ExxonMobil who will hold back change by any means necessary, but their days are numbered. The American people overwhelmingly support efforts to fight climate change and momentum is on our side.”
The regulations, issued last summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), require states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants, the nation's largest source of such pollution. The plan would cut emissions from existing power plants by a third by 2030, from a 2005 baseline, by shutting down hundreds of coal-fired plants and increasing production of renewables, particularly wind and solar.
As Earthjustice puts it, the Clean Power Plan is a centerpiece of the nation's climate action strategy that draws on the strength and ingenuity of American innovation to slash dangerous carbon pollution being dumped into our air, while fostering investment in energy efficiency and clean energy.
Last October, two dozen states and Murray Energy filed lawsuits, accusing the U.S. EPA of “going far beyond the authority Congress granted to it.” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is leading the charge, called it “the single most onerous and illegal regulations that we’ve seen coming out of DC in a long time.”
Supreme Court puts President Obama’s Clean Power Plan on hold https://t.co/MULTmGN2DT #BBCGoFigure https://t.co/XUgbfANe9K— BBC News (World) (@BBC News (World))1455112368.0
In response to the Supreme Court decision, Morrisey told Bloomberg he was “thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues.”
Joanne Spalding, the Sierra Club’s chief climate counsel noted, however, that “the Supreme Court has already upheld the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act. We believe that the Clean Power Plan is a valid exercise of that authority. We fully expect the Clean Power Plan to ultimately prevail in the courts.”
Supreme Court stay of Clean Power Plan won't delay our country's accelerating transition from dirty #coal to clean energy.— Michael Brune (@Michael Brune)1455069404.0
Earthjustice remains optimistic as well. "The battle to defend the Clean Power Plan is far from over. Today's Supreme Court ruling did not rule on the validity of the plan, but instead left that for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to decide," Howard Fox of Earthjustice said. "We are confident that the DC Circuit will uphold the plan, which rests on a solid legal and factual foundation.
"Recognizing the need to move decisively away from carbon pollution and towards clean energy, an unprecedented coalition has intervened in court to defend the Clean Power Plan. Among those joining the Environmental Protection Agency in opposing the court challenges are state, county and municipal governments; power companies; renewable energy producers; companies that specialize in helping businesses and consumers save energy; businesses that use energy; and public health and environmental groups.
"In contrast, the parties working to overturn this crucial forward-looking plan remain mired in yesterday's thinking. We will continue to strongly oppose that counterproductive effort."
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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