EPA power to reel in coal power emissions challenged, now elevated to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is considering a case that challenges the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants.

Fossil fuel-producing states and coal companies, led by West Virginia, argued that the EPA does not have the authority to shift electricity generation from coal to renewable sources like wind and solar, according to NBC News

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After over two hours of oral arguments Monday, it was unclear if the coal-fueled conservative coalition would get what it wanted, according to the report. Some conservative justices reportedly appeared receptive to the argument against EPA regulation of coal power plants, but more liberal justices didn’t seem convinced.

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Under the Obama administration, the EPA proposed rules to limit power-plant emissions and credit operators for switching to renewable energy. The same coalition of states and coal companies sued, and the Supreme Court ultimately blocked enforcement of the rule, which was then abandoned by the EPA.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA proposed relaxed emissions rules, which were then challenged by a different group of states, as well as environmental groups. On Trump’s final day in office, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the relaxed rules, leaving no power-plant emissions policy in place. But the appeals-court ruling leaves the door open for the Biden administration to resurrect restrictions on power-plant emissions, NBC News

noted.

A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the cohort led by West Virginia would put an end to that, and could have severe long-term consequences, Ramon Cruz, president of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. Calling the case a “right wing power grab,” he said it could limit the ability of all federal agencies to operate under their mandates.

Coal trains by Flickr user Kimon Berlin (Used under CC License)

Coal trains by Flickr user Kimon Berlin (Used under CC License)

Since the first EPA power-plant emissions rules were proposed, coal has also declined. Coal plants were retired at a record pace

in 2019 as energy from renewables looked poised to become cheaper in many world regions.

That economic reality means several large utilities, including California’s Pacific Gas & Electric, are not siding with coal interests in the current Supreme Court case, according to NBC News

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Coal mine [CREDIT: Global Climate Budget 2018]

Coal mine [CREDIT: Global Climate Budget 2018]

With Trump having made “bringing back coal” a major part of his 2016 campaign pitch, that led the Trump-era EPA through some strange workarounds in order to keep coal looking like a favorable option.

Remember that by and large, the power grid continues to get cleaner, so despite the pushback from a few utilities, interests, and politicians who would rather see the emissions mix stay dirtier, buying an EV remains a clean investment in the future.