In December 2015, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held a historic climate change summit in Paris, France. At this highly anticipated meeting of world leaders, the conference of parties adopted the Paris Agreement, often referred to as a landmark agreement, which is a climate pact agreed to by 195 countries. Under the agreement, the countries will take significant measures to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C by reducing their carbon emissions.
President Obama, a strong proponent of climate change action, wanted the United States to lead the world by example, and worked to secure a carbon emissions reduction plan for the United States in advance of the Paris summit. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan, announced in August 2015, is the centerpiece of the United States’ plan of action to reduce emissions in this country.
However, while the world negotiated the Paris Agreement, the U.S. Senate passed measures to overturn the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and to revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. While both measures were vetoed by the President, and did not derail adoption of the Paris Agreement, a question remains: will the CPP withstand political and legal challenges in the United States?
Unfortunately, at this point, the answer is that it is simply too soon to know. On the political front, 2016 is an election year. Even if the Congressional-White House battle over the CPP continues over the next few months, that wrangling is not likely to bring about a change in the status quo, as demonstrated by the recent attempts to overturn the CPP. A shift in power following the elections, however, could have a serious impact on the plan.
Not only could a new occupant of the Oval Office decide to abandon the CPP, the new President may also have the opportunity to appoint a new Supreme Court justice. Numerous states and industry groups have filed suits against the CPP, and the cases are proceeding in the D.C. Circuit. However, no rulings are expected until later this year, and commentators expect the litigation to reach the Supreme Court, which recently took the unprecedented action of staying implementation of the regulations until the court challenges are resolved (see next blog post for discussion of this issue).
Clearly, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the future of the Clean Power Plan. The one certainty we know is that 2016 will be a significant year for the CPP. Commentators, the states, industry groups, voters, and the world will be closely following political and legal developments affecting the CPP as they play out in this new year.
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Further Reading and References:
Ben Wolfgang, Obama power limited at Paris climate change summit COP 21, Washington Times, November 25, 2015, available at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/25/obama-power-limited-at-cop-21-paris-climate-change/?page=all (last visited January 5, 2016).