Environment & Science

Supreme Court puts Obama's Clean Power Plan on hold until after legal challenges

File: The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 6, 2013.
File: The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 6, 2013.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A divided Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to halt enforcement of President Barack Obama's sweeping plan to address climate change until after legal challenges are resolved. If the plan goes ahead, California is likely to hit its goal well before the deadline, thanks in part to the state's own ambitious goals.

"As the world gets hotter and closer to irreversible climate change, these justices appear tone-deaf as they fiddle with procedural niceties," California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a press release. "This arbitrary roadblock does incalculable damage and undermines America’s climate leadership." Still, he noted that California would continue to move forward with its own steps toward clean power.

The surprising move from the Supreme Court is a blow to the Obama administration and a victory for the coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and industry opponents that call the regulations "an unprecedented power grab."

By temporarily freezing the rule the high court's order signals that opponents have made a strong argument against the plan. A federal appeals court last month refused to put it on hold.

The court's four liberal justices said they would have denied the request.

The plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030.

Appellate arguments are set to begin June 2.

The compliance period starts in 2022, but states must submit their plans to the Environmental Protection Administration by September or seek an extension.

Many states opposing the plan depend on economic activity tied to such fossil fuels as coal, oil and gas. They argued that power plants will have to spend billions of dollars to begin complying with a rule that may end up being overturned.

Implementation of the rules is considered essential to the United States meeting emissions-reduction targets in a global climate agreement signed in Paris last month. The Obama administration and environmental groups also say the plan will spur new clean-energy jobs.

To convince the high court to temporarily halt the plan, opponents had to convince the justices that there was a "fair prospect" the court would strike down the rule. The court also had to consider whether denying a stay would cause irreparable harm to the states and utility companies affected.

This story has been updated.