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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.

Feds investigating alleged scheme to illegally finance Collins’ reelection bid

Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: SARAH SILBIGER / Getty Images

Federal prosecutors are investigating what they call a massive scheme to illegally finance Sen. Susan Collins' 2020 reelection bid, Axios has learned.

What's happening: A recently unsealed search warrant application shows the FBI believes an executive with a Hawaii defense contractor illegally funneled $150,000 to a pro-Collins super PAC and reimbursed family members' donations to Collins' campaign. There's no indication that Collins or her team were aware of any of it.

Mapped: Confederate monuments over time

Data: Southern Poverty Law Center; Note: There are some monuments with unknown dedication dates and they are not represented in the bar chart; Map: Michelle McGhee/Axios