On January 21, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) won an initial victory as the D.C. Circuit refused to grant opponents a stay of the Clean Power Plan (CPP or Rule).

The Rule, promulgated pursuant to section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA), limits carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel fired electric generating plants (generating units).  The CPP’s goal is to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and each state is provided an emissions reduction target. Qualifying state emissions reductions under the Rule generally prompt the retirement of coal plants and the greater adoption of natural gas and renewable resources.  States must submit their implementation plans (SIP) in 2016 demonstrating that they will achieve the requisite emissions reduction by 2022, or request a two-year extension. However, if a state fails to submit an adequate implementation plan by the 2016 due date or request an extension for plan development until 2018, U.S. EPA will assign a federal implementation plan (FIP) that will enable that state to meet its emissions reduction target.

The timing of SIP submittal is a critical element in achieving the Rule’s objective of curbing emissions.  Thus, if the challengers had obtained a stay of the Rule’s effective date, the Agency’s ability to demand compliance by states with the SIP submittal date may have been jeopardized.

Hours after the regulation was published in the Federal Register, 27 states filed more than 15 separate cases against the U.S. EPA that were consolidated before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Eighteen other states, including New York and California, have joined in the consolidated lawsuits in support of the CPP. Although the final disposition of the Plan is still is uncertain, the Rule remains in effect unless and until it is set aside by a court.

The opening maneuver of the Rule’s opponents was to request a stay with the goal of halting SIP submittal and U.S. EPA’s authority to enforce deadlines until the court ruled on the merits. The Agency and its allies prevailed in this initial squirmish, as the court found the Rule’s challengers “did not meet the stringent standard to grant a stay pending court review.” The result of the Court’s ruling is that all states must begin preparing to meet the CPP’s requirements or risk EPA’s imposition of a FIP.