Victory for affordable electricity: Supreme Court puts brakes on Clean Power Plan

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In a big win for affordable electricity, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial Clean Power Plan should be put on hold while courts consider legal challenges from 27 states. 

This is great news, as the Clean Power Plan threatens Americans' access to the affordable, reliable electricity that powers our homes, schools, jobs and communities. It could also increase electricity prices by up to 15 percent in some states, potentially putting huge strain on families and businesses.

To learn more about the Clean Power Plan and what it could mean for you, read the article below from Enchantment Magazine or visit our Policy Center.

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The Stay on the Clean Power Plan

Article authored by Keven J. Groenewold, Executive Vice President, New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Published in the March 2016 Enchantment Magazine.

The United States Supreme Court took an unprecedented action on February 9. The court, on a 5-4 decision, decided to temporarily block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP). This means EPA can’t enforce the rule until the federal courts decide if the rule is legal.

The Clean Power Plan—issued last summer by the EPA—requires states to make significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants. Twenty-seven states have challenged the rule, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and 39 member co-ops, along with dozens of corporations and industry groups. The case is scheduled to be heard in a federal appeals court this summer.

NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor said, “Charging ahead with implementation of the Clean Power Plan would have caused immediate and irreparable harm to America’s electric co-ops. Had the stay not been granted, co-ops would have been forced to take costly and irreversible steps to comply with the rule, which is a huge overreach of EPA’s legal authority.”

The Supreme Court stay means the CPP has no legal effect while the courts are reviewing the rule to determine whether it is lawful. During this time, EPA cannot enforce any of the deadlines or requirements contained in the rule.

The court will almost certainly hear the case eventually—regardless of an appeals court’s expected ruling this summer. The losing side will undoubtedly appeal the decision to the nation’s highest court. Typically, the court gives deference to executive agencies on decisions of a regulatory nature. However, this decision may have telegraphed the high court’s concern with the CPP.

The Supreme Court sent a strong signal that five justices have serious questions about the legality of the rule. In spite of the brave face in public comments from representatives of the Obama administration, EPA, and environmental groups, this ruling is a severe blow to the rule.

This whole issue became even more complex four days after the ruling with the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia was considered one of the court’s more conservative members and part of the majority in the February 9 decision. The ultimate CPP decision may rest with whoever replaces Justice Scalia.

The court may yet vote to uphold the plan. Even if it doesn’t, supporters of the regulations point out that California and a handful of other states are going beyond federal recommendations in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Here in New Mexico, steps have been taken with a future CPP in mind. Five coal-fired power plants have been shuttered or will be in the next couple of years. The state has renewable portfolio standards and energy efficiency standards.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector last year were the lowest since 1995, with coal accounting for only 34 percent of U.S. electricity—versus 50 percent in 2005. Last year also saw major new renewable energy installations, which came with no significant change in either electricity consumption or electricity cost. And electricity from renewable sources is expected to grow another 9.5 percent in 2016, according to a recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

For the electric co-ops here in New Mexico, it is time to take a deep breath and figure out what this all means. The extra time given by the Supreme Court to sort out legal boundaries before deciding the regulatory scheme is very helpful. But whatever plan we ultimately come up with—it will be the most reliable and affordable solution out there.