Courts Should Uphold the Clean Power Plan

On the first Monday in this sweltering month of August 2015, which is on track to surpass 2014 as the hottest year on record, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a groundbreaking new set of safeguards designed to fight climate change and protect public health. The new standards, known as the Clean Power Plan, set limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It’s the first effort by the United States to tackle one of its, and the world’s, biggest problems. As we approach the international meeting on climate change in Paris this coming December, the Plan provides the nation with credible moral high ground as we urge other big nations with carbon pollution issues, like China and India, to take their own substantial steps toward reducing pollution.

The Clean Power Plan is a huge step in the right direction. By providing every state with the opportunity to develop individualized plans to reduce carbon pollution, the Plan calls on every state to act on climate change. The limits are ambitious but achievable: the Plan calls for a 32 percent reduction of carbon pollution from by 2030 from power plants, which make up the largest single source of carbon pollution in the country.

The Clean Power Plan is long overdue. The scientific community has long and repeatedly warned that carbon pollution and climate change are causing the planet to warm. The thought that we may face runaway climate change in our lifetimes, or those of our children, horrifies many. Common sense safeguards to protect us from harm makes sense. And we don’t have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. Our economy can thrive as new technologies are developed and implemented to meet our energy needs.

Some people don’t see it this way. They oppose the Clean Power Plan and any effort to fight climate change because they believe that polluter profits are more important than the economic and health benefits of cleaner air and cleaner energy.

That is why 15 state attorneys general, led by the attorney general of West Virginia, have asked a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. to put the Clean Power Plan on hold while they bring a lawsuit to block it entirely. In support of their position, the attorneys general argue that their states will suffer “irreparable harm” if the court does not put the plan on hold.

The harm they claim is that their states will expend resources planning how to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. What about the harm to the rest of us from climate change, such as flooding, droughts, and extreme weather events? This is already occurring, and the impacts of climate change will only grow more severe if we fail to act. This isn’t a close call. The harm to society far outweighs any harm to these states. The court should reject the request to put the Plan on hold.

The court should also reject the argument that the EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act. Twice since 2005 the Supreme Court has held that the EPA has the authority and the obligation to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Justice Kennedy, the swing vote in many important cases, has been in the majority in both of the decisions. The legality of the Clean Power Plan will surely end up in the Supreme Court. Given the important societal interest in fighting climate change, the Supreme Court’s prior precedent, and the judicial deference owed to the EPA as the agency charged with administering the Act, the Plan stands a good chance of surviving judicial scrutiny.

The coal industry and its supporters have declared war on the Clean Power Plan, because it threatens their investment, and they care about profits. They don’t care about our children.

For the sake of our children, we need to tackle climate change. The Clean Power Plan is an important step in the right direction that deserves the support of all citizens. It should be upheld by the courts.