4 Things to Know About the Supreme Court’s Clean Power Plan Delay

by Kelly Mitchell

February 10, 2016

Yesterday, the Supreme court issued a stay — a temporary pause — on the implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan while a lower court hears a lawsuit. Here are four things to keep in mind.

Clean Power Plan

1. This sounds bad, but don’t panic.

Fossil fuel companies and their allies would have you believe that this decision marks the end of the Clean Power Plan — and I don’t know, maybe all climate action in America. But the Supreme Court’s ruling does not overturn the Clean Power Plan.

This was a political move, not a decision on the legal merits of the rule — which will almost certainly survive an honest review.

Which is not to say it’s all rainbows and sunshine. The world is warming at an alarming rate. 2015 was the hottest year on record and communities across the globe are facing real and devastating impacts. It’s unacceptable for any branch of government to delay modest, common-sense climate action in the face of this crisis.

But the good news is that the same fossil fuel companies who spearheaded this attack are facing the unstoppable momentum of a clean energy revolution. Two once-giant coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in the past six months, and the once-largest coal company in the world is teetering on the edge.

But fossil fuels are not the future. More renewable energy was added to the grid last year than dirty energy. And the solar industry already employs more people than oil and gas extraction. No court ruling can stop this progress, so it’s a shame to see the Supreme Court cater to industry attempts to delay the inevitable.

2. It shows that fossil fuel companies are getting desperate.

The coal industry doesn’t have a lot of friends.

Wall Street has more or less decided the coal industry is worthless. Utilities aren’t lining up to build new coal plants. China — once the bright and shiny beacon of coal dominance — is moving forward with plans to cut coal production by a billion (billion with with a b!) tons.

But you have to hand it to coal company CEOs; they are scrappy even when they’re down.

The attack on the the Clean Power Plan has been massive and coordinated, with the coal industry playing a driving role. Laurence Tribe, an attorney on one of the stay applications and a top legal critic of the rule, was hired by Peabody Energy (that once massive, now almost bankrupt coal company). It’s clear coal companies are succeeding in raising doubts about the future of this rule. But at some point, it’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

3. This is exactly why we have to get fossil fuel influence out of politics.

Unfortunately, this decision is yet another example of corporate control in our democracy. In a rational world, where the interests of the people prevailed, states would not be lining up with fossil fuel companies to block much-needed climate action.

The Clean Power Plan is hardly revolutionary; Greenpeace thinks the rule could go much further in cutting carbon pollution and moving us toward renewable energy. But the fossil fuel industry and its allies in government are relentless, and until we get corporate money out of politics we’ll continue to fight these battles over even the most modest policy shifts.

4. We’ll need the next president to go above and beyond what President Obama started.

The legal (non)debate over the Clean Power Plan will continue into the next administration, but that doesn’t stop President Obama from moving forward with critical climate policies. Obama’s Department of Interior took a huge step this January when it announced a moratorium on new coal leases and a comprehensive review to look at the climate impacts.

There’s nothing stopping the Department of Interior from doing the same for onshore oil and gas. President Obama can also listen to the millions of people across the country and take all new offshore drilling leases in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Gulf Coast off the table.

Looking ahead to the election, it’s clear — we’re going to need the next president to not only defend policies like the Clean Power Plan, but go above and beyond.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision is a reminder that the fossil fuel industry is decades deep into a sophisticated and targeted effort to sow doubt about climate science. These companies have invested millions buying access to institutions of power — which means they win things like Supreme Court stays.

But they are starting to lose — a lot — in the places it really matters. Voters are already showing that this November, they will reward the candidate who is willing to take necessary action for our climate and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for holding back progress.

This fight isn’t over yet! The movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground is growing every day. Join us here.

Kelly Mitchell

By Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell is the Climate and Energy Campaign Director for Greenpeace, based in Chicago. Since 2006, she has worked with activists and organizations across the country to confront corporate polluters and transform U.S. energy policy. She currently leads Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy, pushing some of the largest companies in the world to embrace wind and solar and working alongside communities to develop a just and democratic energy system.

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