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.
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.