LAST DECEMBER AT the Paris climate talks, the United States promised the world it would do its part to fight global climate change. Today, the US Supreme Court made that promise more of a maybe.
In a late-day announcement, the country’s highest court said it will not enforce the Clean Power Plan—the EPA rule that forces massive cuts to coal power plants—until a lower court resolves legal challenges against the rule. Each state gets to decide how it wants to meet the EPA’s emissions goals (perhaps through stricter environmental standards, carbon taxes, or cap and trade) and has to submit its plan by June 2016. The court’s announcement doesn’t necessarily shut down the Clean Power Plan. But it could send a signal to recalcitrant states, manufacturers, and energy companies that they can keep dragging their feet on climate change. More broadly, it weakens US assurances that it will follow global agreements to curb emissions.
The Supreme Court’s announcement is a new wrinkle in a months-long dispute over the Clean Power Plan’s legality. Since late last year, opponents like Peabody Energy, the Utility Air Regulatory Group, and 29 states have challenged the plan in court, arguing that the EPA has no business regulating carbon dioxide. Because the EPA is based in the capitol, the case will be argued in front of DC’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a hearing set for June 2nd. “And the next step would be to decide the case, which is a timetable the court itself determines,” says Howard Fox, legal counsel for EarthJustice. That could take months.