• Supreme Court halted enforcement of Obama's Clean Power Plan
  • Environmental Protection Agency to keep helping states comply

Obama administration officials are offering to help states that want to keep working on plans to pare greenhouse gas emissions from their power plants even though a Supreme Court order says that they can stop.

"We will still continue to work with the states on a voluntary basis that want to move forward with us and continue to provide tools and outreach," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told lawmakers Thursday. "We clearly understand that the courts will be winding through the process of looking at that rule. We will respect that, but in the meantime we are going to continue to address greenhouse gases."

McCarthy’s comments were delivered to the House Agriculture Committee just two days after the high court halted enforcement of the Clean Power Plan until it rules on -- or declines to consider -- a lawsuit challenging the landmark climate program. McCarthy is also scheduled to address a summit of state clean air officials Thursday.

At least five states -- California, Colorado, New York, Virginia and Washington -- have already committed to forge ahead with changes to their electric generation portfolio to meet targets laid out by the now-suspended Clean Power Plan. The federal rule aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, encouraging states to rely less on coal to generate electricity and use more wind, solar power and natural gas.

2018 Deadline

Other states are stopping work on their plans. The attorneys general of West Virginia and Texas, which are leading the lawsuit, are trying to convince states to put their pens down.

"States and utilities are not required to continue following the illegal power plan," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey told reporters Wednesday. "There is no need to expend precious resources on policies that will never become final."

Texas won’t develop its compliance plan while the stay is in force, Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed. “We’re not planning on doing anything until this case is resolved," Paxton said.

States that are pressing ahead with compliance may view the carbon cuts as inevitable -- and are mindful of the Clean Power Plan’s 2018 deadline to submit final compliance programs. A D.C.-based federal appeals court has put a lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan on a fast track, raising the possibility that the Supreme Court could resolve the legal dispute next year.

Pause

"The court’s decision does not overturn the policy or decide its legal merits," John Coequyt, Sierra Club’s director of federal and international climate campaigns, said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. "It’s only a pause in the process of establishing state plans."

The court order means the EPA won’t be able to enforce a Sept. 6 deadline for states to either submit their emission reduction plans or request a two-year extension.

Some states also may be eager to capitalize on other trends accelerating a move toward cleaner energy sources, said Sara Chieffo, vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters. Market forces -- including the allure of low-priced natural gas and the declining costs of renewable power -- are driving some of the change.

"States have every incentive to move ahead with this planning process and to continue to move ahead with advancing clean energy," Chieffo said by phone. "The Clean Power Plan builds on a shift that’s already under way in the power sector toward cleaner sources."

In many of the 26 states that are challenging the Clean Power Plan in federal court, regulators have been working to develop compliance programs. Before the stay, there was a legal risk to not doing so -- the imposition of an EPA-designed plan for making the emissions cuts, instead of a state-tailored program.

Arkansas Report

"You can sometimes see instances where governors are very critical but their energy regulators are sitting down and rolling up their sleeves and figuring out how are we going to do this." Chieffo said. "Because in the energy sector they think in order of decades, and planning, and we need to be doing that independent, even, of the Clean Power Plan."

There were signs Thursday that Arkansas, one of the 26 states challenging the EPA rule, would continue discussions with stakeholders to decide what steps are necessary to comply with the Clean Power Plan if it is ultimately upheld.

McCarthy’s speech Thursday will be delivered to a summit of state utility, energy and clean air regulators in Washington. The conference -- focused on how state agencies are working together to comply with the Clean Power Plan -- was scheduled before the Supreme Court’s Feb. 9 order.

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