John Locher/AP

Supreme Court's pause on Clean Power Plan just a 'speed bump,' experts say

At least five states already poised to move forward with their own carbon emission cuts in line with Paris agreement

Despite a Supreme Court decision this week to put a temporary hold on the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, some states will move forward with their own plans to reduce carbon emissions.

The Clean Power Plan would cut carbon emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030 and encourage the development of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Implementation of the plan is considered essential to the U.S. meeting commitments on emissions reductions that it made in Paris in December.

The Supreme Court paused implementation of the Clean Power Plan on Tuesday because it wants to make sure that the plan is valid and legal before allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to oblige states and companies to enforce emissions cuts, according to Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a coalition of experts tracking progress on the Paris agreement.

The ruling was a "speed bump, not a stop sign," Kimmell said.

"I'm here to tell you that the Paris climate commitments are here to stay. A pause is just that — simply a pause," John Coequyt, director of federal and international climate campaigns for the Sierra Club, said during a press call on Thursday. 

"And even just one day after the Supreme Court decision five states have already announced that they will continue to move forward with their Clean Power Plans," he added.

Those states are: California, Colorado, New York, Virginia and Washington.

When world leaders gathered in Paris in December to sign a global climate treaty aimed at reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy, one of the goals was to replace half of U.S. coal with clean energy by 2017.

Coal plants are the United State's top source of carbon emissions, so in order to meet reduction targets specified in the Paris Agreement and Clean Power Plan, coal power plants must gradually be phased out and replaced with cleaner energy sources.

Progress towards that goal is still moving at "full speed" despite the Supreme Court’s recent decision, Coequyt said.

Some 231 coal plants have been retired in the U.S. in the past five years, contributing to deep cuts in national carbon emissions, Coequyt added.

"The Paris agreement has momentum, and the Paris Agreement is 100 percent on track," he said.

The Supreme Court decided to pause the Clean Power Plan after more than two-dozen mostly Republican-led states and allied business and industry groups tied to fossil fuels challenged its validity. The states called the Clean Power Plan an "unlawful power grab" that would kill jobs and make electricity more expensive.

The hold on federal enforcement of the Clean Power Plan — expected to last about 18 months — will stay in place until a lower court rules on the merits of the challenges and the Supreme Court either refuses to hear the case or rules on the merits. 

"It does not prevent states from going forward with their plans to meet their individual targets, and we urge them to do so," said Kimmell. They could do so under their own state laws — including renewable energy standards, efficiency standards, and carbon cap and trade programs, Kimmell added.

A recent analysis by UCS found that exiting clean energy commitments already mean 31 states are on track to be more than halfway to their short-term Clean Power Plan emissions reductions targets, and 21 states are set to surpass them, Kimmell wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

"It is critical that forward-thinking states — as well as counties and municipalities — continue to lead the way," Kimmell said. 

States that continue their progress will not only help slow climate change, but will benefit economically, Kimmell added.

Coal plants are facing increasing competition from renewable energy sources — which are, with recent technological innovations, approaching cost parity with fossil fuels.

"This progress will continue no matter what happens in the courtrooms," Kimmell said.

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