Activist: U.S. Supreme Court Won’t Scuttle Paris Climate Accord

International action on global warming will proceed despite the court’s delay of an Obama policy cutting power-plant emissions.
U.S. President Barack Obama after addressing the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Aug. 24, 2015. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Feb 13, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Legal wrangling over a signature Obama administration climate change rule won’t upend the Paris climate agreement, according to activists.

On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court voted to delay implementation of the federal Clean Power Plan in response to a petition by 27 states and a coalition of trade groups.

The plan aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The court’s move means states can postpone preparing and submitting plans for curbing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until the lawsuit over how the agency crafted the rule works its way through the federal courts.

That process may take two years or more.

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But speaking Thursday from an international meeting of climate-action advocates in Berlin, Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, downplayed the impact of the Supreme Court’s move on U.S. credibility overseas.

Meyer told reporters it was “no surprise to anyone [here] that there are legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan.”

In June, the Supreme Court overturned an EPA rule to limit mercury pollution from coal power plants, also on a 5–4 vote.

The U.S. is the world’s second-largest carbon polluter after China, and power plants are responsible for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

At the Paris climate talks in December, the Clean Power Plan was key in showing that the U.S. was serious about taking action on global warming, which helped lead to a new global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s a symbolic value to the Clean Power Plan and a symbolic problem when the Supreme Court stays it,” said Joanne Spalding, chief climate lawyer with the Sierra Club.

International observers, however, also know that the Clean Power Plan is one of several U.S. policies in motion to boost renewable energy, Spalding said, noting that in late 2015, Congress extended crucial clean energy tax credits as part of a broader budget deal with the White House.

The tax credits ensure that solar and wind power will become economically competitive with fossil fuels, Meyer said, and provide certainty to investors in renewable energy projects.

Meyer also noted that unlike 15 years ago when President George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto climate accord negotiated under the Clinton administration, the international community would hold a future president accountable for America’s promises if he or she “went rogue” on the Paris accord, likely by blocking cooperation in trade, security, and other arenas.

“It would not be a cost-free decision,” he said, because the rest of the world—including major economies and carbon emitters, such as India and China—understands the deep economic, public health, and national security risks of both a destabilized climate and continued reliance on coal-fired power.

“The coal industry has been in free fall for reasons beyond the Clean Power Plan and any other EPA regulations,” Spalding said. “The world is turning away from coal.”