CEO’s Report – U.S. Supreme Court halts Clean Power Plan for judicial review

March 1, 2016

The electric utility industry gained a victory with the Supreme Court’s recent vote to put the Environmental Protection Agency’s final Clean Power Plan (CPP) rule on hold while the court hears legal challenges to it. This is an unprecedented move by the court and was in response to motions filed by several states and industry.

During the stay, the EPA cannot enforce any of the deadlines originally set forth in their plan. The rule is essentially on pause while the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reviews the rule and while any appeals to that ruling are made. Most states have indefinitely postponed their public processes in light of the stay.

The CPP aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. While this is a worthy goal, we know the effects of the CPP would be disastrous for electric consumers. The rule would require costly steps which would not only dramatically increase the price of electricity, but would threaten the reliability of the electric system.

The CPP seeks to do too much, too fast. Heartland has already made significant investments to reduce emissions by installing emission reducing technology at our coal-fired plants, investing in wind power and offering a variety of incentives to consumers to increase energy efficiency. The EPA’s plan doesn’t take into account these past investments, which would mean increased costs from making further investments and decreased reliability from taking multiple plants out of service. The EPA also overreaches its legal authority with this rule and Heartland has strongly advocated for its reversal.

On February 23, 34 U.S. senators and 171 members of the House filed a friend-of-the court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit supporting the petitions that seek to overturn the CPP. The EPA rule seeks to establish a cap-and-trade program for CO2 emissions from the electricity sector, even though Congress has repeatedly rejected legislation that would create such a program, the lawmakers said. It can be inferred from this “that Congress had no intention of conferring upon EPA the very authority that the agency now claims as a central part of the Final Rule,” the lawmakers wrote.

In issuing the CPP, the EPA usurped the “policy-setting role of Congress” — a power reserved to the legislative branch, they said. The EPA “made a unilateral policy choice, contrary to any authority given to it by Congress, to impose unprecedented environmental compliance burdens on the nation,” said the 205 members of Congress. They also pointed out that if upheld, the CPP would impose a large economic burden on states.

Public power utilities will continue to make progress in reducing emissions, and the industry will continue to evolve. The CPP as written would have meant broad and transformative changes to the electricity industry. A meticulous review of the plan is in order to first, determine the rule’s legality, and second, its feasibility.

We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to put the EPA’s rule on hold while legal challenges are heard. Over half the states, 24 national trade organizations, 37 rural electric cooperatives and three labor unions representing 900,000 members have sued the EPA over this rule. It is our hope that ultimately, the rule is overturned and we can focus on our priority of providing reliable, affordable electricity.

Photo by Mark Fischer