A federal appeals court in Washington, DC heard arguments Thursday in two cases challenging President Barack Obama’s far-reaching plan to address climate change by forcing U.S. coal-fired power plants to cut heat-trapping pollution.
The lawsuits — one from a coalition of 15 states and another brought by Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., the nation's largest privately held coal mining company — are part of a growing political attack from opponents who say the plan is illegal and will kill jobs, cripple demand for coal and drive up electricity prices.
The plan, proposed through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year, requires states to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, giving customized targets to each state and leaving it up to them to draw up plans to meet the targets.
At issue is whether the EPA has legal authority to enforce the plan under the Clean Air Act. But the agency and environmental advocacy groups have urged the court to throw the cases out as premature, saying legal challenges must wait until the EPA issues a final rule this summer.
"Since we have not issued a final rule, we believe that lawsuits challenging the rule are premature,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia told Al Jazeera. “We will address all comments concerning the legality of the rule when we issue the final Clean Power Plan."
Two out of the three Republican-appointed judges on the panel hearing the cases expressed doubts Thursday about the legal challenge, seeming to agree with lawyers defending the EPA that the lawsuits are premature.
Opponents concede it's not typical for a court to provide relief before a rule is final, but argue that states and the coal industry already face the prospect of shutting down coal plants and spending other resources in anticipation of the rule.
Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, sent a letter urging the governors of all 50 states to defy the EPA by refusing to submit the compliance plans.
"This proposed regulation would have a negligible effect on global climate but a profoundly negative impact on countless American families already struggling," McConnell wrote in an Op-Ed in March.
West Virginia and other states have also argued that the plan is illegal because coal-fired power plants are already regulated under a separate section of the Clean Air Act. They say the law prohibits "double regulation."
Al Jazeera and wire services