US Supreme Court blocks Obama carbon emissions plan

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Obama Climate Change Plan Blocked by Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered a major blow to President Barack Obama by putting on hold federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions mainly from coal-fired power plants, the centerpiece of his administration's strategy to combat climate change.

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The court voted 5-4 along ideological lines to grant a request by 27 states and various companies and business groups to block the administration's Clean Power Plan, which also mandates a shift to renewable energy away from fossil fuels.

The highly unusual move by the justices means the regulations will not be in effect while a court battle continues over their legality.

The White House on Tuesday night said it disagrees with the court decision but said it expects the rule will survive the legal challenge.

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US Supreme Court blocks Obama carbon emissions plan
FILE - In this Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H. The Obama Administration’s hotly debated plan to cut the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide coming out of the nation'€™s power plants will save about 3,500 lives a year from also reducing other types of pollutions, a new independent study concludes. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
Evening rush hour traffic comes to a standstill on a hazy and polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2010. China has met its 2010 target to cut emissions of key pollutants and is on track to meet its energy efficiency goal, state media said, quoting the country's top climate change official as saying after China last week acknowledged it had become the world's biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that are blamed for climate change and global warming, surpassing the United States, though not in terms of emissions per capita. China's efforts to improve energy efficiency allowed for savings of 490 million tonnes of coal and prevented carbon dioxide emissions totalling 1.13 billion tonnes in 2006-2009, state media reported. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWBURG, MD - MAY 29: Emissions spew out of a large stack at the coal fired Morgantown Generating Station, on May 29, 2014 in Newburg, Maryland. Next week President Obama is expected to announce new EPA plans to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal fired power plants. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 file photo, smoke streams from the chimneys of the E.ON coal-fired power station in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and with a capacity of around 2300 MW of power it is one of the most powerful coal-fired power stations in Europe. Germany announced on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014 a cash boost for measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in a bid to meet its ambitious climate target for 2020. Germany has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide output by 40 percent by the end of the decade, compared to 1990s levels. Current estimates predict it will only achieve a 32-35 percent cut. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan. Carbon dioxide pollution has increased steadily, by 60 percent, from 1992 to 2013. In 1992, the world spewed 24.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide, now it is 39.8 billion, according to scientists at the Global Carbon Project international consortium. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2014 file photo, a passenger airliner flies past steams emitted from a coal-fired power plant in Beijing, China. Six countries produce nearly 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. China and the United States combine for more than two-fifths. The planet’s future will be shaped by what these top carbon polluters do about the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
LONDON - MARCH 25: Marketing manager Nick Cliffe of the 'Closed Loop Recycling' plant walks people through the recycling process on March 25, 2010 in London, United Kingdom. The state of the art plant is the first in the UK to produce food grade recycled plastic from bottle waste. Over 35,00 tonnes of plastic bottles are recycled at the plant annually, representing almost 20% of the plastic bottles currently collected for recycling in the UK, and saving approximately 52,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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In this photo taken Feb. 9, 2015, President Barack Obama listens in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The president is setting a goal of raising $2 billion from the private sector for investments in clean energy. The White House says it's launching a Clean Energy Investment Initiative as part of the Obama administration's effort to address climate change.The Energy Department will solicit investments from philanthropists and investors concerned about climate change. The aim is to spur development of technologies and energy sources that are low in carbon dioxide pollution, such as solar panels, wind power, fuel cells and advanced batteries. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
FILE- This April 2006, file photo shows The Four Corners Power Plant in Waterflow, N.M., near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. While the nearby San Juan Generating Station will factor into New Mexicoâs proposed goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one-third, the Four Corners Power Plant - which is located within the Navajo Nation - wonât. The Navajo Nation is pursuing an ownership stake in a coal-fired power plant in New Mexico as many utilities are divesting from the energy source. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)
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"We remain confident that we will prevail on the merits," the White House said, adding that the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to work with states that want to cooperate and that it will continue to take "aggressive steps" to reduce carbon emissions.

The plan was designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 2030 to 32 percent below 2005 levels. It is the main tool for the United States to meet the emissions reduction target it pledged at U.N. climate talks in Paris in December.

A senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday night that despite the court's "procedural decision," the United States can deliver those commitments and take "new and additional steps" to lead internationally on climate change.

The Supreme Court's action casts doubt on the long-term future of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's rule because it increases the chances that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court would take the case after a lower court issues a decision on the legality of the regulations and ultimately would strike it down.

As recently as June, the high court ruled 5-4 against the Obama administration over its efforts to regulate mercury and other toxic air pollutants.

The states, led by coal producer West Virginia and oil producer Texas, and several major business groups in October launched the legal effort seeking to block the Obama administration's plan. The states said the emissions curbs would have a devastating impact on their economies.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey described the Supreme Court action on Tuesday as a "historic and unprecedented victory" over the EPA.

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Tom Donahue, chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the high court stay "will ensure that America will not be forced to make costly and irreversible implementation decisions based upon an unprecedented regulation until judicial review is complete."

For Obama, executing his domestic and international climate change strategy would be a key legacy accomplishment as he nears the end of his time in office in January 2017.

House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "The Supreme Court's deeply misguided decision to stay the implementation of the Clean Power Plan will enable those states that deny climate science to slow progress in reducing the carbon pollution that threatens the health of all Americans."

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy welcomed the Supreme Court's move, saying it "has now stopped this illegitimate abuse of power after 27 states revolted against the president's anti-energy agenda."

The court action also means that, with Obama leaving office in January 2017, the next president will have a say on whether to continue defending the regulation.

Before that, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which denied a similar stay request last month, will hear oral arguments in the case on June 2 and decide whether the regulations are lawful.

"This is certainly a surprise and it suggests the court has serious concerns" about the regulation, said Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve School of Law.

DIVIDED COURT

The brief order from the justices said that the regulations would be on hold until the legal challenge is completed. The court's five conservatives all voted to block the rule. The order noted that the four liberals would have denied the application.

Under the EPA rule, each state must submit a plan to comply with its emission-reduction target by September 2016 but can also request a two-year extension.

The challengers contended that the Obama administration exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act, the key law that addresses air pollution. More than a dozen other states and the National League of Cities, which represents more than 19,000 U.S. cities, filed court papers backing the rule.

Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer for coal-powered utilities that challenged the rule, said the court has never before blocked an EPA rule. "To say it's unusual is a bit of an understatement," Holmstead added.

Sean Donahue, a lawyer for environmental groups that support the law, said the court action was "surprising and disappointing." He added that "we remain very confident in the legal and factual foundations for EPA's rule."

Sam Adams, U.S. climate director for the World Resources Institute, said fighting to uphold the rule is important to ensure the Paris agreement stays intact.

"The benefits of the Clean Power Plan are definitely worth fighting for, not only for the United States but the high expectations it hopes to set internationally," he said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Will Dunham and Lisa Shumaker)

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