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Supreme Court Puts White House's Carbon Pollution Limits On Hold

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A central piece of President Obama's climate change initiatives is now on hold, after the Supreme Court put a stay on rules limiting carbon pollution generated by U.S. power plants.

The heart of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan is now on hold, after the Supreme Court granted a stay request that blocks the EPA from moving ahead with rules that would lower carbon emissions from the nation's power plants.

The case is scheduled to be argued in June, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But a decision could be long in coming, particularly if the case winds up in the Supreme Court — meaning that the rules' fate might not be determined before a new presidential administration comes into power in 2017.

Announced in its final form last August, the Clean Power Plan aims to reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution from power plants, which the EPA says generate 32 percent of total carbon emissions. The plan sets a range of new national standards, with deadlines ranging from 2022 to 2030.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports for our Newscast unit:

"More than two-dozen states went to court to challenge the EPA's action, and in a surprise 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed to block the measure — at least until an appeals court can hear arguments in the case this summer.

"Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky — a leading coal-producing state — cheered the high court's action. Environmental groups blasted the decision, but say they're confident the EPA's action will ultimately be upheld."

The White House says it disagrees with the decision, adding, "We remain confident that we will prevail on the merits."

Speaking on today's Morning Edition, Scott says, "There's no question they were caught off-guard by this decision, which could be seen as an ominous sign for the president's broader climate agenda."

The order putting the Clean Power Plan on hold comes more than six months after the Supreme Court blocked an Obama administration initiative that limited toxic mercury emissions from power plants, agreeing with states and industry groups that argued that the EPA had interpreted its rule "unreasonably when it deemed cost irrelevant to the decision to regulate power plants."

In that 5-4 decision, the court divided along the same lines seen in the decision over the stay blocking the Clean Power Plan, with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito ruling in favor and Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor dissenting.

From the SCOTUSblog website comes this summary of the arguments in the case:

"Justice Department lawyers had tried to persuade the Supreme Court not to impose any delay, noting that no state would have to file a plan to implement the policy until this September, and any plant would find it easy to get an extension of time to file such a plan until 2018. The government lawyers also told the Court that actual implementation of the plan would not have to begin until 2022, and would have a final completion deadline of 2030. ...

"Operators of those plants, along with the coal industry and supporters in other businesses and industry, had countered that the operators would have to start making infrastructure investment plans right away, because of the lead time needed to switch to natural gas, or solar or wind power. The operators had accused the administration of trying to set itself up as a national energy czar, managing the entire electric-generating economy from Washington. The states who challenged the plan contended that the overall plan amounted to a serious intrusion into their right as sovereign powers over industry inside their borders."

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