Carbon War Erupts Between States Over Obama Power Plan

  • 18-state coalition seeks to defend Obama clean power plan
  • Half of U.S. states fighting plan to counter global warming

In the era of global climate change, the phrase “war between the states” has taken on a new dimension.

An 18-state coalition led by New York and California is taking on a block of 26 states including Texas and Florida in a court fight over the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The regulatory initiative is meant to steer the U.S. away from coal power and toward renewable energy sources.

The states defending the federal plan, joined by the District of Columbia and the cities of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, are seeking permission Wednesday from a Washington federal court to join a battle over the legality of the clean power initiative. They said their request is unopposed.

“Climate change is real. It is deadly. It is threatening the health and safety of people in all of our states,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a telephone press conference. Joining him on the call were Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and the attorneys general of Massachusetts and Virginia, Maura Healey and Mark Herring, all of whom are Democrats.

The first-ever national standards for addressing power plant carbon pollution, the Clean Power Plan aims by 2030 to reduce those emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels. The rules require states and utilities to use less coal and more solar and wind power as well as natural gas.

Litigation over the initiative is the biggest flashpoint between states largely dominated by Democrats supporting the president’s environmental agenda and those led by Republicans opposed to it.

West Virginia and Kentucky last month sued to challenge the regulations published on Oct. 23 as part of a 24-state group. Oklahoma and North Dakota filed separately. They claim the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is exceeding its statutory authority by forcing states to develop at least draft compliance plans by next September and final plans two years after that.

Power Grab

“If the EPA succeeds in this unprecedented and illegal power grab, many jobs will be lost, electricity prices will rise, the reliability of the power grid will be put at risk and the rule of law will not be upheld,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement.

On Nov. 3, an almost identical 24-state coalition sued the EPA, asking the same Washington-based court to review accompanying EPA’s carbon-emission capture technology requirements for new coal-fired plants.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the plan is based on “strong scientific and legal foundations,” and is within the statutory authority granted to the agency by Congress under the Clean Air Act.

West Virginia, joined by the coal producer Murray Energy Corp. and groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, has asked the federal appeals court to issue an order putting the rules on hold until the case is decided.

Water levels in one coastal Virginia area have risen two feet in the past 75 years and may rise an additional two to five feet by the end of the century, Herring told reporters.

“I know there are folks who are going to want to make this a political fight,” he said. “If you say that climate change is some sort of made-up global conspiracy, then just come to Hampton Roads and take a look for yourself.”

The case is State of West Virginia v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 15-1363, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).

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