The temporary stay issued last week by a divided Supreme Court could delay, but should not be allowed to destroy, America’s efforts to tackle climate change.
President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan was unveiled in August and touted in December to world leaders at the Paris climate conference. The plan seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by a third before 2030. It was the leverage used by the United States to get other nations, including top polluter China, to develop their own proposals for reducing greenhouse gases.
Now the 5-4 court action, along ideological lines and prior to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, suspends the program.
The Clean Power Plan is a sensible, flexible proposal that lets individual states decide how to reach lower emissions goals and greater energy efficiency. Pennsylvania has cut carbon releases by 12 percent in the last seven years. Gov. Tom Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection had already begun soliciting input from lawmakers, industry and citizens on Clean Power proposals for the state.
Legal experts were shocked by the high court’s stay since the legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan, brought by fossil fuel industries and states led mostly by Republicans, have yet to be decided on their merits in federal court. This could put the plan on ice for a year or more.
Some of the plan’s defenders are focusing, however, on a more hopeful scenario. If the high court’s liberals and conservatives deadlock, post-Scalia, at 4-4 on the merits of the plan, a more receptive appeals court ruling could end up calling the tune and allow Clean Power to take effect.
Meanwhile, five states — California, Colorado, New York, Virginia and Washington — say they will voluntarily implement the program. Pennsylvania should join them.
It’s not the most potent way to counter climate change, but, short of a green light from the courts, the national war against carbon emissions may have to be waged on smaller fronts.