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Supreme Court Deals Blow to EPA's Clean Power Plan, Obama Vows to Fight

Climate

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.

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."

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."

“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.”

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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.”

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.”

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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The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

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Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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