Coal Country Celebrates Clean Power Plan Hold

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The smokestacks at the Comanche power plant in Pueblo, CO.

Stephanie Joyce

The smokestacks at the Comanche power plant in Pueblo, CO.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem isn’t likely to forget the phone call he got Tuesday night, from a colleague in Washington D.C.

“5pm. It was 5pm exactly,” he recalled in an interview with Inside Energy.

Stenehjem’s colleague told him the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, had sided with the 27 states suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate change rule that targets carbon emissions from power plants. Stenehjem was surprised.

“Delighted might be a better word. We always know that is very difficult to get a stay—certainly from a district court, from a circuit court—and it is extraordinary to get one, and I’m not aware of any other similar case of this significance where the Supreme Court has done that.”

Which is why many are interpreting the injunction as a sign the Supreme Court will ultimately overturn the rule.

“To me, this just sends such a signal that what they’ve been doing all along is probably way beyond their reach and authority,” said Eli Bebout, Wyoming’s Senate Floor Leader.

Travis Deti, the assistant director of the Wyoming Mining Association, agrees.

“It came very quick and almost out of the blue and to me that signals that the Court recognizes there are some significant legal issues with the EPA’s plan,” he said.

But the one-page order didn’t explicitly make any kind of judgment about the merits of the case, and environmental groups say coal states should keep working on their plans to comply with the rule, in case it doesn’t get overturned by the Supreme Court.

“I hope that we don’t find ourselves in the position where we don’t have time to develop a state plan and we’re forced to accept whatever is developed at the federal level” said Connie Wilbert, with the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club. “I think we’d be way better off to have our own plan.”

Wyoming and Colorado have signaled they will keep working on their plans. North Dakota hasn’t said one way or another yet.But whether the states continue working on their plans or not, a transition has already begun.

“We’ve communicated pretty clearly in recent years that we believe the transition away from coal is going to happen,” said Dave Eskelsen, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, Wyoming’s largest utility.

All of the company’s recent power additions have been renewables or natural gas. Shannon Anderson, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, says that transition, by the utilities, is what people should be paying attention to in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Those market forces are not likely to be changed based on what happened,” she said. “So it seems like it’s a better place for Wyoming to start thinking about the future and diversification and renewable energy and other options.”

The D.C. Circuit Court will hear arguments against the Clean Power Plan in early June.