Clean Power Plan's day in court: 4 facts you didn't know

Martha Roberts

Editor’s note: This post was updated on Sept. 30, 2016.

On Sept. 27, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments about the Clean Power Plan– America’s first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants and our largest source of this harmful pollution.

For the first time, these vital safeguards were reviewed on the merits. Here are four key facts you might not have known about this critical court case.

1. Clean Power Plan opponents conceded the EPA has authority to issue these safeguards.

During the hearing, Clean Power Plan opponents told the court that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants under section 111 of the Clean Air Act because the agency has already regulated these power plants for other substances.

They argued that because these other pollutants – mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other hazardous air pollutants – were regulated under an entirely different section of the Clean Air Act, the new carbon rule isn’t valid.

That’s like arguing that a restaurant that has complied with health standards can’t also be subject to the fire code.

But opponents of the Clean Power Plan haven’t always sung to this tune. Several high-profile Clean Power Plan opponents have conceded the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants. Examples include statements by opponents’ counsel before the Supreme Court and even a “Clean Air Act Handbook” they drafted.

2. States and power companies are already well positioned to comply.

Nationwide, states and power companies are already shifting their electricity generation to cleaner or zero-carbon resources. Because the costs of renewable energy have plummeted, markets are now driving new investments in clean energy.

The latest government data shows that United States power-sector emissions have already declined 21 percent since 2005 – two-thirds of the way toward the 32-percent reduction the EPA anticipates the Clean Power Plan will achieve by 2030.

In fact, a recent analysis shows that all states opposed to the plan could comply with some common-sense steps. 

3. Americans strongly support the Clean Power Plan, even in states opposed to it.

The Clean Power Plan sets common-sense targets to reduce carbon pollution from our nation’s largest source of these emissions, helping to protect families, public health and the economy against this urgent threat.

It adopts a flexible approach that enables maximum emissions reductions while maintaining an affordable, reliable electricity supply. Two former Republican EPA administrators and Republican members of Congress noted this approach in a recent op-ed

Because one of the best ways to help secure emissions reductions from the electric sector is to deploy cost-saving energy efficiency investments, the EPA’s plan is expected to decrease electricity bills for families.

It helps explain why a large majority of the American public supports the Clean Power Plan – even in states officially opposed to the rule.

Indeed, 60 cities across the country filed in court to support the Clean Power Plan – including Houston, Grand Rapids, Miami and dozens others in states now fighting the EPA.

4.  A broad and diverse, bipartisan coalition backs this plan.

host of supporters have stood up to support the Clean Power Plan’s common-sense climate solutions and to highlight its robust technical and legal foundation.

The 60 cities filing in support of the rule were joined by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, and 18 states all across the country – as well as our nation’s leading business innovators.

Leading brands such as Google, Apple, Mars, IKEA, Amazon and Microsoft weighed in. So have premier legal experts on the Clean Air Act and the operation of the electricity grid, along with top health and medical experts, and organizations seeking to protect consumers.

It doesn’t end there. The coalition includes more than 200 current and former members of Congress who filed in support of the rule.

This, along with the other merits that make up a rock-solid legal and technical foundation for the Clean Power Plan, gives us confidence that in the end, climate protection can win the day.

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