Donate! Alliance Logo

Supreme Court’s Surprise Coal Plant Order Shouldn’t Have Huge Effects in Idaho


The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week to delay or “stay” implementation of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan to reduce coal plant greenhouse gas emissions is a disappointment, but we shouldn’t view it as a setback to efforts to move Idaho off its unhealthy dependence on coal-fired electricity generation.

That’s because Idaho is – so far, at least, and to its credit – smartly determining how to write an Idaho-specific plan to meet its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates to reduce power plant greenhouse gas emissions. Our state is still wrestling with how to comply with the EPA coal plant rule, which despite being delayed by the Supreme Court nonetheless remains intact.

EPA’s landmark Clean Power Plan, developed under the 1970 federal Clean Air Act, sets rigorous state-specific greenhouse gas reduction goals from existing coal power plants. Idaho has no utility-scale coal plants, so it is most affected by virtue of two large natural gas generating plants near New Plymouth in the south and Rathdrum in the north. Still, Idaho electric utilities and their customers rely on generation from out of state coal plants for 40 percent or more of our electricity, making coal roughly the same as hydropower in Idaho’s overall electricity mix. And that means that even if we don’t have coal plants within our borders, we are not immune from pollution reduction requirements on plants outside our borders.

Several states, utilities, and coal-related industries sued EPA to block the Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected their bid to halt implementation of the plan, opting instead for an expedited review of legal arguments for and against it. The same states and coal companies then moved on to the Supreme Court and asked that it put the rule on hold pending review by the lower court, and that’s what the high court did. It should be noted, too, that many states and other interests, including the health care, scientific, and clean business communities, are fighting just as hard as the critics to defend the Clean Power Plan.

The Supreme Court’s action isn’t good news by any stretch, but it’s far from reason for polluting coal companies and utilities to celebrate, and it shouldn’t really have a dramatic impact in Idaho, which so far is doing the responsible thing.

  • The historic EPA rule not only remains intact, it will withstand legal challenges. The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of this case or the EPA rule, but rather on a procedural issue raised by coal supporters.
  • As we’re beginning to see in Idaho, forces far beyond EPA and this Clean Power Plan are already making coal plants uneconomic to operate and a financial liability for their utility owners and their customers. The U.S. investment community and financial markets are dumping holdings in coal dependent companies, including utilities, which makes coal investments more toxic than ever. The transition away from dirty coal power is irreversible, and nothing the courts do will reverse the moribund coal industry’s death spiral.
  • States are free to decide for themselves whether to halt their planning on how to comply with the coal plant rules. But if they do, they may still be on the hook for meeting existing compliance deadlines when the legal cases have run their course. The smart thing for states to do right now is to assume they’ll end up having to reduce their emissions as called for in the Clean Power Plan. Nothing the court has done suspends deadlines in 2022 and beyond to reduce coal plant emissions.
  • States that have the foresight to move forward regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision will be the ones that benefit from the immediate economic opportunities offered by growing their clean energy economies. Idaho, for instance, is already seeing new jobs, new economic stimulation, and new tax benefits from it nascent solar power industry as more solar is added to our home rooftops and as new utility solar projects break ground across southern Idaho.
  • Idaho, like the nation, is heading to a carbon-free energy future. The process has been a rocky one for sure, but it is undeniable.

So yes, this week’s unfortunate Supreme Court developments aren’t helping us move toward cleaner energy. And, yes, it’s likely the court’s decision and the resulting legal delays may set us back some and even hand this ball to the nation’s next president.

But that just means it’s on us as clean energy advocates to make sure our state decision-makers don’t waver in their job to fulfill the overwhelming demand by Idahoans for the wise energy decisions needed to ensure protection of our health and environment.

Comments are closed.