DC Circuit halts Clean Power Plan case in win for Trump

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit this morning granted the White House's request for pause in litigation on the Clean Power Plan, holding the case in abeyance for 60 days.
  • The court ruled over the objections of two dozen states, cities and environmental groups, who were pressing for a decision on the Obama-era greenhouse gas rules for existing power plants. 
  • Last month, President Trump requested the court delay ruling on the CPP as it reviewed the regulations and a number of other environmental rules put in place by the Obama administration. The court has also granted delays on litigation over smog rules and the MATS standard.  

Dive Insight:

A day after it delayed oral arguments over the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), the Circuit Court handed the Trump administration another significant victory.

The president has launched a series of reviews on environmental rules, including smog and mercury restrictions and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. Where those rules are under consideration by the courts, the administration has asked judges to delay rulings and hearings while the regulations are reviewed. 

While Trump asked the court for a delay in CPP litigation last month, some observers believed a ruling could be on the way due to the volume of work already done on the case. There was a full day of oral testimony in front of the entire D.C. Circuit bench, and the rule's implementation has already been stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court — where many expect the case to wind up.

After the oral arguments, many energy lawyers were cautiously confident of the rule's survival, and liberal states pushed the court for a decision. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had led a coalition of 24 states and cities, urging the court to issue a ruling. The Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed their own motion to continue the case. 

Ultimately, the Circuit Court sided with Trump's EPA, which argued it "should be afforded the opportunity to fully review the Clean Power Plan and respond to the president's direction in a manner that is consistent with the terms of the executive order, the Clean Air Act, and the agency's inherent authority to reconsider past decisions."

After the review, the White House could elect to revise the existing rule, replace it with a new, less stringent carbon regulation, or attempt to rescind it outright. 

If the administration moves to repeal the CPP without a replacement, it could set up a legal showdown over the scope of the Clean Air Act or the EPA's 2009 endangerment finding on greenhouse gases. That's a fight the EPA administrator reportedly won't take on in the near future

Under the D.C. Circuit's decision, the CPP case will be paused for 60 days, during which time parties can file briefs addressing the future of the rule. 

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Filed Under: Generation Regulation & Policy
Top image credit: Getty Images/Mark Wilson