All eyes are now on the DC Circuit Court...
How important is the Clean Power Plan, anyway?
One final note: After the Supreme Court issued its stay last week, I saw a number of analyses hinting that maybe the Clean Power Plan wasn't that critical after all, since many utilities were moving toward clean energy anyway. That seemed wrong to me. Or at least incomplete.
It's true that there are myriad other forces presently pushing the United States toward cleaner energy. The natural gas boom is crushing coal power. Congress just renewed key tax credits for wind and solar through 2020. Many states, like California and New York, are already working on plans to green their grids. Even if the Clean Power Plan fell, these dynamics would remain in place. Coal power would still be dying.
Fair enough. But the Clean Power Plan would likely lead to significant changes over and beyond those existing trends. If enacted, it would prod the dozens of red states that weren't already thinking about clean energy to do so. It would maintain support for renewable energy after those solar and wind tax credits finally expired in 2020. The rule was already leading some states to consider plans for carbon trading — which could lay the groundwork for deeper reductions down the road.
That's why many analysts, like those at the Rhodium Group, think it would be exceedingly difficult for the United States to meet its climate goals — cutting greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — without the Clean Power Plan in place. Clean energy is already growing, yes. But the EPA rule was expected to accelerate that process. It's not everything, but it's still a big deal.
** Footnote: It's still uncertain when the Supreme Court would actually rule on a Clean Power Plan case, if it came to that. They could conceivably hear oral arguments as early as February of 2017, if the DC Circuit Court moves quickly. Or they could decide to delay arguments and a ruling until Scalia's replacement has been appointed. I've updated this section to reflect that uncertainty.