U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Clean-Power Plan — States Get Temporary Stay

For now, New Jersey will not have to implement strict new regulations governing greenhouse-gas emissions

President Barack Obama
At least for the short term, New Jersey will not have to adopt tough new plans to curb emissions that contribute to global warming as ordered by the Obama administration.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision late Tuesday to temporarily block implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the state can hold off imposing some of the most stringent limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants in this part of the country.

The requirement is one of the reasons the Christie administration joined 28 other states in seeking to block the rule adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The state also is upset with the plan because it fails to give New Jersey credit for emission reductions it already has achieved.

For backers of the plan, however, the court’s stay just allows the Christie administration to delay taking steps to address climate change, even though the state has established its own aggressive targets to reduce those emissions.

“It just gives the Christie administration another excuse to do nothing and sit on its hands,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and a frequent critic of the governor’s clean energy policies.

Without implementing the Clean Power Plan, the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s efforts to deal with climate change, New Jersey will never reach the goals of the Global Warming Act, according to proponents. The state law, passed during the Corzine administration, aims to reduce emissions contributing to global warming in New Jersey by 80 percent by 2050.

In issuing a stay, the Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the case brought by the states, which argued that the plan represented an unlawful extension of the federal agency’s authority. But in blocking the plan, an unprecedented step before the rule had undergone judicial review, the court’s action indicated skepticism among the justices. The case is to be heard on an expedited basis by a federal appeals court this spring and then likely end up before the nation’s highest court.

Some business lobbyists applauded the court’s decision, as did many energy companies, which also challenged the regulation, saying it would lead to the closure of many coal-fired power plants.

“The decision is good for New Jersey,’’ said Sara Bluhm, vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and vice chair of the state Clean Air Council. “New Jersey has been a leader in reducing emissions. We’ve been meeting the goals long before EPA told us what to do.’’

Bluhm said that New Jersey has the most stringent carbon-emission limits of any state in the PJM regional power grid, which encompasses 13 states and the District of Columbia. The Obama rule would require New Jersey to limit carbon emissions to 812 pounds per megawatt hour by 2030, she said. In comparison, West Virginia’s goal is 1,305 pounds per megawatt hour. New Jersey’s carbon dioxide emission rate in 2012 was much less — 1,091 pounds per megawatt hour.

PSEG Power, the state’s largest power producer, was the one energy company that supported the rule, although it has not been part of the legal debate. “But after Sandy and the other major storms, we — like many people in New Jersey — believe climate change is real and action needs to be taken,’’ said Michael Jennings, a spokesman for Public Service Enterprise Group, the company’s parent.

Michael Egenton, a senior vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, however, agreed with Bluhm, saying it is good the court is slowing down implementation of the plan.

“There’s a lot of concerns about its impact on New Jersey,’’ he said. “It doesn’t treat New Jersey fairly or equitably. There’s not enough recognition for what the state, industry, and DEP have done to reduce emissions.’’

The delay is especially surprising to environmentalists who noted that the Supreme Court ruled in a prior case that the EPA had the authority to reduce carbon emissions. At that time in 2007, New Jersey was among the states backing that authority, but switched its position during the Christie administration.

“Delay means more greenhouse-gas emissions and more global warming,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It will undermine efforts to move New Jersey forward with renewable energy and energy efficiency.’’

At the same time, five new natural gas power plants are now operating or being built in the state, along with a rapid expansion of gas pipelines, which will contribute to global warming, he said.