EPA chief urges states to stick with power plan despite SCOTUS stay

Greg Nash

President Obama’s chief environmental regulator is encouraging states to stick with their plans to lower carbon emissions from their energy sectors despite the Supreme Court’s halting of a federal rule this week.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyEPA blasted over lack of protection of minorities U.S. and Puerto Rico must cooperate on Zika Political foot-dragging at EPA over controversial weed killer MORE told state regulators Thursday that market forces are already pushing the power sector toward cleaner energy, a trend that began before the Obama administration finalized the Clean Power Plan rule that the Supreme Court delayed on Wednesday. 

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“This is the market momentum we have been thinking about and hoping for and seeing happen, and it is already happening,” she told regulators at a National Association of State Energy Officials meeting in Washington. 

“States, really try to continue to seize the opportunities. We know that the market is moving in this direction, we all want to grab it for all of its benefits and squeeze that dry, and I don’t think that this decision changes any of our emphasis and enthusiasm to work on these issues together.”  

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision Tuesday night, halted the EPA’s climate rule for power plants — called a "stay" in legal terminology — while state and industry lawsuits against it move forward. 

The ruling means states don’t have to submit compliance plans under the regulation until the courts — and ultimately the Supreme Court itself — rule on the legality of the plan. 

But McCarthy said that, despite the order, states should keep working on emissions reduction plans and coordinating with the EPA on them. 

“Are we going to respect the decision of the Supreme Court? You bet, of course we are,” she said.

“But it doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we’re working on and it doesn’t mean we won't continue to support any state that voluntarily wants to move forward.”

States and utilities hostile to the rule cheered the court order this week. The American Energy Alliance trade group said Thursday that it was sending regulators a “stop work” order to convince them to cease their compliance planning.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has sued against the rule, told reporters on Wednesday that his state, for one, will not work on its compliance plan during the legal process.

“We’ve got a stay,” Paxton said. “The whole point of the stay is to stop us from having to provide any implementation plan, so we’re not moving forward with anything until this case is resolved.”

But McCarthy, in an often defiant speech at Thursday’s conference, said it’s in states’ best economic interest to begin greening their energy mix even while litigation moves forward.

After the stay order, several states have said they will continue implementing the plan, including Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, typifying many Democrats’ response to the stay, said Thursday, “While the Court’s temporary stay is disappointing, it does nothing to diminish our resolve in Minnesota to keep moving forward on clean energy initiatives, including the development of our state’s Clean Power Plan.”

McCarthy struck a similar tone with regulators Thursday.

“Am I disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to stay the Clean Power Plan? My answer would be absolutely yes. Why not? I really wanted to be the one to sign that first plan approval,” she said.

“But does it stop or even slow down this country in terms of our transition to a low carbon future? Absolutely not.”