Supreme Court Will Hear Case About Climate Pollution from Power Plants

Court Will Review D.C. Circuit Decision that Overturned Trump Administration ACE Rule and Repeal of Clean Power Plan

October 29, 2021
Keith Gaby, (202) 572-3336,

(Washington, D.C. – October 29, 2021) The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear a case about the Environmental Protection Agency's long-standing authority to limit climate pollution from power plants.

The Court granted requests from coal companies and their allies to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. That lower court decision struck down the Trump administration's ACE rule and its repeal of the Clean Power Plan – the Obama-administration policy that set the first-ever national limits on climate pollution from existing coal and natural gas-fired power plants.

"Our nation's clean air laws require EPA to protect the American people from the dangerous air pollution that is devastating communities across the country," said Ben Levitan, senior attorney at Environmental Defense Fund, which is a party to the case. "Environmental Defense Fund will firmly defend EPA's authority and responsibility to protect American families from the clear and present danger of climate pollution emitted by power plants."

In 2015, EPA issued the Clean Power Plan. In 2019, the Trump administration repealed it and replaced it with the ineffective ACE rule, which did virtually nothing to limit pollution and that EPA's own analysis indicated would increase pollution in numerous states.

Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit struck down the Trump administration's actions because they relied on a flawed and impermissibly narrow interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The court's opinion evaluated the Trump administration's legal arguments and explained why they were meritless.

Coal companies and their allies appealed to the Supreme Court, which today granted their request to review the D.C. Circuit decision. Notably, no power companies — the entities that would have been subject to compliance obligations under the Clean Power Plan — petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case.

The coalition opposing Supreme Court review included EPA; the Attorneys General of 23 states, the District of Columbia and seven municipalities; environmental groups, including EDF, and clean energy trade associations; and power companies providing electric service to more than 20 million homes and businesses. The power companies' brief explained that the ACE rule would have forced EPA to set pollution limits while being "prohibited from considering the actual strategies applied by [power plants] to substantially and cost-effectively reduce this sector's emissions."

Climate change is already causing destruction across America and around the world. New research finds that a child today is likely to live through roughly three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents. The number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters afflicting the United States has increased drastically over the past 40 years.

Polls show that Americans strongly support policies to mitigate climate change. Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant, and 68 percent — including majorities in every state — support strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld EPA's authority and responsibility to limit climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. In Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Court ruled that climate pollution qualified as air pollution that is subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act "without a doubt … The statute is unambiguous."

In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (2011), the Court determined that the Clean Air Act "speaks directly to emissions of carbon dioxide from" existing power plants. For confirmation, the Court pointed specifically to section 111(d) of the statute — the same section that authorized the Clean Power Plan, but which the Trump administration later attempted to severely constrain.

In Supreme Court proceedings, EDF and others will argue that the D.C. Circuit's carefully reasoned decision was correct. Our arguments are directly supported by the text of the Clean Air Act and extensive Supreme Court precedent.

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