Jan 19, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Federal court strikes down key Trump power plant rule

Illustration for carbon removal story
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A federal appeals court this morning vacated EPA carbon emissions regulations for coal-fired power plants, a victory for opponents of the Trump administration policy who criticized the rule as too weak.

Why it matters: The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will remove one hurdle for the incoming Biden administration as it seeks to implement new and wider-ranging policies.

Today's decision said the Clean Air Act "lacks the straitjacket" that the EPA said limited the breadth of its authority when issuing the 2019 regulation.

Driving the news: The 2019 rule would have required state plans to make coal-fired units more efficient over time, but lacked binding CO2-cutting targets.

  • EPA officials said the Clean Air Act imposed major limits on their leeway to go beyond focusing on what changes can be made at specific power plants.
  • "Is EPA an energy regulatory authority? Absolutely not," a senior EPA official said when finalizing the rule in mid-2019.
  • It replaced an Obama-era rule that never took effect that claimed far broader powers to drive changes in electricity systems by giving states wide latitude to decide how to meet emissions requirements.

What they're saying: The statute section "does not, as the EPA claims, constrain the Agency to identifying a best system of emission reduction consisting only of controls 'that can be applied at and to a stationary source,'" Tuesday's court ruling states.

  • The ruling says the EPA was incorrectly reading the statute in a way that would force it to "turn its back on major elements of the systems that the power sector is actually and successfully using to efficiently and cost-effectively achieve the greatest emission reductions."

Yes, but: Per Bloomberg, while environmental lawyers expect Biden's EPA to pursue a broad approach to power sector regulation, they "cautioned that any ambitious regulation will likely invite a skeptical eye from the U.S. Supreme Court’s new 6-to-3 conservative majority."

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