The U.S. Supreme Court has stalled Obama’s plans to regulate the nation’s carbon emissions. It has ruled that the Clean Power Plan, which was unveiled by the President last year ahead of the United Nations Paris climate talks, cannot move forward until all legal challenges are heard. Environmentalists were taken aback by this decision, as an initial attempt to halt the implementation of the plan through the same means was thrown out by the U.S. appeals court in January.
The White House, while disappointed with the ruling, is confident that things will still move forward. “We disagree with the Supreme Court's decision to stay the Clean Power Plan while litigation proceeds,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. Officials have said that the timescale of the plan had built-in periods to allow for such legal delays, and that it is based on a “strong legal and technical foundation.” Nevertheless, it is still seen by some as a major blow to the project.
West Virginia, which still gets the vast majority of its electricity from coal, is fighting particularly hard against the Clean Power Plan. Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock
The Clean Power Plan was seen as an unprecedented proposal by the U.S. to curb its carbon dioxide emissions, and formed a key element of the country’s pledges made at the COP21 climate talks at the end of last year. It calls for each state to reduce its carbon output by at least 32 percent by 2030, while at the same time emphasizing a shift towards renewable energy sources. It required that each state should submit its proposal of how they will achieve these cuts by September this year. Yet whether this will happen has now been thrown into doubt, and it looks likely that blocking the plan will mean Obama will be out of office before it is put into force.
The main objections to the plan come from a coalition of 27 states, utilities, and coal miners. Leading the charge is West Virginia, which still gets 95 percent of its electricity from burning coal. The state’s general attorney Patrick Morrissey has called the decision a “historic and unprecedented ruling” that is a “great victory” for West Virginia. He went on to state that: “We are 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.”
The ruling seems to have shaken the confidence many had in the plan, and injected some uncertainty that the commitments will be followed through. Many, however, think that little can stop the changing tide against the fossil fuel industry, and that this ruling is simply a bump in the road to what will inevitably come into force. The use of coal to generate electricity in the U.S. fell to its all-time low last year, and saw around five percent of coal-fired plants shutting down.