Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Effort to Combat Global Warming by Regulating Coal Emissions

Steam rises from the stacks of the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant outside Point of the Rocks, Wyo., in 2014. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Urquhart/Reuters)
Steam rises from the stacks of the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant outside Point of the Rocks, Wyo., in 2014. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

In a major setback for President Obama’s climate change agenda, the Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the administration’s effort to combat global warming by regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The brief order was not the last word on the case, which is most likely to return to the Supreme Court after an appeals court considers an expedited challenge from 29 states and dozens of corporations and industry groups.

But the Supreme Court’s willingness to issue a stay while the case proceeds was an early hint that the program could face a skeptical reception from the justices.

The 5-to-4 vote, with the court’s four liberal members dissenting, was unprecedented — the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court.

“It’s a stunning development,” Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former environmental legal counsel to the Obama administration, said in an email. She added that “the order certainly indicates a high degree of initial judicial skepticism from five justices on the court,” and that the ruling would raise serious questions from nations that signed on to the landmark Paris climate change pact in December.

In negotiating that deal, which requires every country to enact policies to lower emissions, Mr. Obama pointed to the power plant rule as evidence that the United States would take ambitious action, and that other countries should follow.

The White House said in a statement that it disagreed with the court’s decision and remained confident that it would ultimately prevail. “The administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions,” it said.

Opponents of Mr. Obama’s climate policy called the court’s action historic.

“We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues,” said Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia, which has led the 29-state legal challenge.

“There’s a lot of people who are celebrating,” said Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer with Bracewell & Giuliani, a firm representing energy companies, which are party to the lawsuit. “It sends a pretty strong signal that ultimately it’s pretty likely to be invalidated.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Adam Liptak and Coral Davenport