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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."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 25, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Europe's electricity inflection point

Expand chart
Reproduced from an Ember and Agora Energiewende report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Renewable sources overtook fossil fuels as the largest source of power generation in the European Union for the first time last year, new analysis Monday shows.

Why it matters: It's an inflection point. Wind — now the largest source of renewables in the bloc — and solar have been growing while coal-fired production has fallen sharply in recent years.

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."