Federal court strikes down Trump's coal-friendly EPA climate rules

President-elect Biden will have a freer hand to enact stronger climate laws.

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A federal appeals court has struck down the Trump administration’s plan to relax restrictions on power plant greenhouse emissions. A US court of appeals said that the plan approved by the EPA in 2019 was a “mistaken reading of the Clean Air Act,” and that the EPA “fundamentally has misconceived the law.” With the current EPA rules invalidated, it will allow President-elect Joe Biden, set to take office at noon ET today, to create tougher laws governing power plant pollution.

The lawsuit was filed in August of 2019 by 22 state attorneys general and eight local governments. “This ‘Dirty Power’ rule served to support dirty and expensive coal power plants, undercut clean and sustainable electricity, and left New Yorkers and all other Americans to foot the bill,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement.

Current EPA spokesperson Molly Block expressed disappointment with the decision, saying it “risks injecting more uncertainty at a time when the nation needs regulatory stability.”

This ruling affirms what we’ve said all along — the ‘Affordable Clean Energy’ rule did nothing to promote clean energy, and was not affordable for American consumers.

The court decision effectively ends the EPA’s efforts to weaken US climate change policies, after the Trump Administration brought the US out of the Paris climate agreement. America formally exited the agreement in November 2020, and since Joe Biden pledged to rejoin it the day he’s inaugurated, the US will have only been a non-party to the accord for about two and half months.

The Trump administration’s EPA lawyers argued that the federal government doesn’t have the authority to set national restrictions on emissions or force states to do so. However, the judges ruled that the EPA “may not shirk its responsibility by imagining new limitations that the plain language of the statue does not clearly require.” The new rules never went into effect, as the Supreme Court said in 2016 that states didn’t need to comply until all lawsuits were resolved.

The court didn’t go all the way with its decision, as it failed to reinstate a 2015 Obama administration rule that forced utilities to move toward renewable energy sources. However, the Biden administration will now be able to enact similar rules without waiting for a legal battle over the Trump regulations. During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to cut emissions from the power sector by 32 percent (compared to 2005 levels) by 2030. “The real win here is that the Trump administration failed to tie the Biden team’s hands,” Harvard professor of environmental law Jody Freeman told the New York Times.