US court rules Obama's Clean Power Plan can advance

A US federal court has ruled that President Barack Obama’s landmark plan to reduce power plant CO2 emissions can advance while it weighs legal challenges brought by dozens of opponents.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (DC) denied a request by West Virginia, 23 other states and fossil fuel interest groups to impose a judicial “stay” on the Clean Power Plan (CPP), saying that the plaintiffs have not “satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.”

The CPP is a rule devised by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires each of the 50 states to cut carbon pollution from power plants 32% by 2030 that result from burning of mainly coal and contribute to global warming. Interim targets take effect in 2022.

Obama is counting on the EPA rule to play a key role in enabling the US to meet its recent climate pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

EPA has included a number of incentives in the CPP to encourage electric utilities to aggressively adopt renewable energy as a partial replacement for the 60GW – about one fifth of the nation’s coal fleet – they expect to retire later this decade.

While environmental groups cheered the ruling as a big step forward in US efforts to combat climate change, the court sided with CPP opponents in agreeing to move forward initial oral arguments to 2 June.

“We are disappointed in today’s decision, but believe we will ultimately prevail in court," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who leads the states’ legal battle against the CPP, says in a statement. He notes the court did not issue a ruling on the merits of the petitioners’ case.

Obama, a lawyer himself, is hoping that the court will rule in favor of the CPP before he leaves office in January 2017.

CPP opponents would almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court should they lose. Whether EPA would is another question if opposition Republicans win the White House in November, as most of the candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination vow to rescind the CPP.