Legal Debate on EPA’s Power Plan Takes Center Stage

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 4.26.49 PMFor the past two weeks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” for power sector carbon emissions has been the center of an ongoing debate between some of the nation’s foremost constitutional and environmental law scholars.

As described in previous posts, the Clean Power Plan aims to place caps on greenhouse gas emissions (or emissions intensity) from each of the 50 states in the U.S. To comply, states will have to use their coal plants less, increase their use of natural gas and renewable fuels, and improve their energy efficiency. A state can focus its effort more or less on each of these methods, so long as it meets its target.

In two earlier posts, I explained the Clean Power Plan, noting that it would attract legal arguments that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has overstepped its legal authority, and explained how the Supreme Court’s decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA would bolster these arguments.

Those arguments are now in full swing. Here is the back-and-forth between Professor Larry Tribe, one of the nation’s most prominent constitutional law scholars, and Professors Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus, two of the nation’s most prominent environmental law professors. These arguments are framed as a disagreement over the constitutionality of the Clean Power Plan, but many of the arguments are really about whether EPA has the statutory authority that it claimed in the Plan.

On March 17, Harvard Law School Prof. Larry Tribe testified to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power arguing that the Clean Power Plan is unconstitutional.

On March 18, Harvard Law School professors Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus strongly disagreed, responding in an op-ed published at Harvard Law Today, titled “Is the President’s Climate Plan Unconstitutional?

This started a significant back and forth that included:

You may also want to check out:

  • The testimony of Prof. Richard Revesz, another of the country’s foremost experts on environmental law and federalism, who testified at the same March 17 hearing in favor of the Clean Power Plan.

These arguments are just the opening skirmish in a running legal battle. If the Obama administration (and the administration that follows it) stays the course on the Clean Power Plan, the arguments will finally be resolved in court.

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