The New York Times Company
WASHINGTON — A coalition of 29 states and cities on Tuesday sued to block the Trump administration from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants. The move could ultimately limit how much leverage future administrations would have to fight climate change by restricting a major source of Earth-warming pollution.
The lawsuit, led by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, argued the Environmental Protection Agency had no basis for weakening an Obama-era regulation that set the first-ever national limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants.
That rule, the Clean Power Plan, required states to implement plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2022, and encouraged that to happen by closing heavily polluting plants and replacing those energy sources with natural gas or renewable energy. Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is a major contributor to global warming because it traps the sun’s heat.
The lawsuit — by 22 states and seven cities including Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Chicago and Miami — is the latest swing of the legal pendulum in a long-running dispute over how to regulate emissions from coal plants. Previously, Republican-led states and industry groups had sued to stop Obama’s Clean Power Plan from going into effect, and won a reprieve when the Supreme Court in 2016 temporarily blocked the Obama administration from imposing changes.
The new challenge, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, argues that the Trump administration’s replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, ignores the EPA’s responsibility under the law to set limits on greenhouse gases. It maintains that the new rule would actually extend the life of dirty and aging coal-burning plants, promoting an increase in pollution instead of curbing it.
It is a legal battle that could again go all the way to the Supreme Court.
“It would have a devastating effect on the ability of future administrations to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,” said Richard L. Revesz, a professor at New York University who specializes in environmental law. “It would essentially make it extremely difficult to regulate greenhouse gases effectively,” he said.