The Supreme Court's decision to stay the Environmental Protection Agency's new power-plant regulations is a disturbing signal that it might eventually kill them altogether. By keeping coal-fired power plants in business longer, this would be a blow to public health and a setback in the drive to prevent climate change. To make sure that effort continues without delay whatever the court finally decides, federal, state and city governments will need even bolder strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
EPA's regulations were designed to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from the power sector 30 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. States were ordered to submit, by 2018, plans to replace some of their coal-fired power with natural gas or renewables (or have the federal government impose a plan for them).
If this doesn't happen, the Obama administration will have a harder time meeting its famous pledge to lower total greenhouse-gas emissions at least 26 percent by 2025. Yet it would be a mistake to exaggerate the effect of a disappointing Supreme Court ruling. After all, coal-fired power generation is undergoing a steady decline in the U.S.
What's more, because the power sector produces only one-third of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, reductions in other sectors have always been needed. The administration has raised fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. But to meet the 26 percent target, further steps are still needednance. Tougher federal rules could be imposed to limit methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells.
States can voluntarily set limits on power-plant emissions. Washington state is considering a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
And citiescan help in any number of ways.
The threat that the Supreme Court might invalidate the EPA's power-plant rules need not be a crippling setback – if cities, states and the federal government respond by pushing even harder to prevent climate change.