WH looks to defend Paris deal after carbon rule halt

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The White House is looking to downplay the impact of the Supreme Court’s halt of a key carbon rule on the international climate deal reached last year.

The Clean Power Plan, an Environmental Protection Agency rule to cut carbon emissions from the electricity sector, was at the heart of the American commitments President Obama took to the Paris climate talks in December.

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The United Nations meeting yielded a global deal setting non-binding carbon reduction targets for countries. Major polluters like China and India signed on, following American prompting. But if the Supreme Court rules against the climate deal — the biggest carbon reduction plan pursued by the Obama administration — those countries and others could conceivably use it as an excuse to back out of the deal.

Obama officials said Wednesday they don’t think that will happen.

Asked whether the U.S. would fulfill its commitments under the Paris deal, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, “the answer to that is unequivocally, yes. We do remain confident we are going to prevail on the merits when the Clean Power Plan rule gets its full day in court.”

Schultz said administration officials had warned their international counterparts that litigation is part of the “complicated process” behind environmental regulations.

“The litigation will be concluded well in time for the United States to make its commitments under the Paris Agreement,” he said. “There are driving forces that will allow the United States to meet its commitments outside of the Clean Power Plan rule.”

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, blocked the power plant rule Tuesday night while litigation against it moves forward.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who sued against the rule, said Wednesday he expects final ruling on its legality to come next year. Under the Paris deal, Obama agreed to cut U.S. emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025

A Chamber of Commerce official predicted Wednesday that the stay order will “extend well beyond the United States and call into question the durability of the Obama Administration’s pledge to the United Nations.”

Stephen Eule, the the group’s vice president for climate and technology, said the stay will make it harder for the U.S. to reach the greenhouse gas reduction commitments it made as part of the deal.

“We further warned that these legal vulnerabilities were likely to render CPP moot, widening the already large gap in the president’s GHG emissions pledge,” he wrote. “The Supreme Court made this outcome all the more likely when it blocked EPA’s power grab.”

—Jordan Fabian contributed.