Supreme Court issues landmark stay in Clean Power Plan case
February 11, 2016
The United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, halted implementation of President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan this week until legality is decided.
For coal-reliant communities such as Moffat and Routt counties, the high court's decision has real implications.
According to Yampa Valley Data Partners, a nonprofit research organization, the top 10 taxpayers in Moffat County are all energy related, with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the operator of Colorado's second largest coal-fired power plant, coming in at number one.
In 2014, Tri-State paid $5,762,011 in local taxes — accounting for almost one out of five dollars collected by the county.
But the court's decision goes well beyond providing insurance for Northwest Colorado's tax base.
Colorado is one of 29 states and numerous energy industry groups to sue the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the implementation of the Clean Power Plan has no legal foundation under the Clean Air Act.
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In an unprecedented move on Tuesday, the Supreme Court reached down into a lower court and issued a stay on the impending regulation.
The stay means states will not be legally accountable for meeting the requirements of the currently-in-question Clean Power Plan until the courts determine the rule's legality.
It also helps set the tone for the case's progression through the courts.
"It seems inevitable that they're going to take this case," said Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, on the practically of the Supreme Court's stay.
Squillace said after issuing a stay, the Supreme Court would be "hard pressed" not to hear the case.
Pending that decision, a federal appeals court maintains jurisdiction and the case cannot progress until a ruling, which will ultimately be appealed by the losing side. At that point, the Supreme Court can officially accept the case and consider arguments.
Exactly what the issuance of a stay means to the overall case is still up in the air.
"There's been at least some speculation that the court of appeals has gotten a signal from the Supreme Court that they want them to strike down this rule," said Squillace. "I don't know if that's a fair reading of what the court did."
But the difference it makes to Northwest Colorado's coal economy is clear.
"This is a tremendous victory for our members who rely on fossil fuel generation as a source of affordable and reliable power, the employees who work at our plants and coal mines, and the communities where our operations are located," said Tri-State CEO Mike McInnes said in a statement.
Tri-State is a part of the multi-state challenge to the EPA's Clean Power Plan and operates the second largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado.
Moffat Count Commissioner Chuck Grobe, who also sits on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, said the decision benefits Moffat County, but the state will continue to account for potential federal regulations.
"We're going to continue on with our process until it's proven otherwise because it would hurt us to stop right now in the middle of it," Grobe said.
Grobe said he appreciated the opportunity to address the courts, but the energy industry does not have the luxury of waiting for an ultimate decision — effectively putting the rule in place, regardless of what the Supreme Court says.