Thursday, February 11, 2016

Supreme Court Temporarily Stays Clean Power Plan - What it Means

President Obama and the EPA released the Clean Power Plan in August 2015. On February 9, 2016 the Supreme Court issued a stay on implementation of the plan. Not surprisingly, the usual five conservative judges outvoted the other four. So what does this stay mean?

As a reminder, the Clean Power Plan is a set of EPA rules designed to curtail coal-based power plant emissions in an effort to combat man-made climate change. You can read more about the Plan here.

The stay isn't any kind of decision about the veracity of the Plan; it simply puts on hold implementation of the Plan until an appeals court rules on challenges to the regulations. Again not surprisingly, those challenges are being led largely by Republican states acting on the behest of the fossil fuel industry. Their main argument is that the EPA doesn't have the authority to regulate carbon emissions in power plants, this despite the fact that the EPA mandate clearly does give that authority and past Supreme Court decisions have ordered EPA to follow through on that authority.

The impact of this particular stay is mostly on timing, but that timing could be critical to successfully meeting our commitments to reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change. Given how long court cases take, including appeals back up to the Supreme Court, this could delay implementation for many months or even years. That's bad for the climate, and bad for the economy.

This is how lobbyists work - delay, delay, delay. The fact that they know they are wrong is irrelevant; their goal is to delay action as long as possible. Not coincidentally, delays mean continuation of massive fossil fuel profits just as decades of delaying tactics by tobacco companies allowed them to reap billions in ongoing profits while killing millions of people via smoking-induced cancers.

Beyond the delayed implementation, the bigger issue is that the Clean Power Plan in itself is woefully insufficient to meet our commitments anyway. It's one step, and one step only. It was an effort by the Obama administration to do what could be done to deal with climate change within the limits of the Executive branch of government. More substantive effort requires Congressional action.

And therein lies the rub. Republicans in Congress have made it clear they will deny reality and deny science and be blatantly dishonest in doing so in service to both their fossil fuel benefactors and their stated goal of denying any success to the President. Republicans have made it clear that they are more than willing to sacrifice the economy, health, environment, national security, and climate of the American people solely to maintain the profits of corporations. Ironically, Republicans are severely damaging future profits of those corporations - and all Americans - by holding back American innovation and handing development of future technology over to the Chinese and others.

In the long run, action to stem climate change will happen, if for no other reason that people who have moved out of places like Florida and the eastern coast of the US because of rising sea levels will force action. But why wait until after that happens to act? Why wait until the tub overflows and fills the bathroom before simply pulling out the plug or turning off the tap?

To not act now is irresponsible and counter to all things American.