In February of this year, the US Supreme Court halted President Obama’s centerpiece Clean Power Plan, until a legal challenge from 27 states, utility companies, and business groups could be heard by the courts. On Tuesday, both sides presented their cases to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is expected to make a decision by late February of next year. If the case moves to the Supreme Court, however, there may not be a final decision until 2018.

The 27 states and business interests who are opposing the plan have claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency would be overstepping its authority in declaring carbon dioxide a harmful pollutant, subject to regulation. The opposition is largely based in economic concerns, with Patrick Morrisey, attorney general of West Virginia saying the plan would lead “West Virginia coalminers to lose their jobs and West Virginians’ electricity bills to skyrocket”.

Opponents have decried the Obama administration’s ‘war on coal’, saying that electricity prices would quickly become unaffordable for many. Independent research has found that monthly bills for most households were unlikely to rise more than five dollars, with some households even seeing a price reduction.

A lawyer for the opposition, Peter Keisler, said in court “We can’t tell a coal plant, ‘You have to become a solar plant’. EPA has no authority to impose a system like this one, which requires, in order to stay open, that the owner invests in other facilities.”

The plan would regulate emissions in states with coal-fired power plants, leaving it up to the states how exactly to lower the emissions. The EPA estimates that the Clean Power Plan would reduce energy sector carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent of 2005 levels. The agency has stated that it has confidence in the regulations, which have “strong scientific and legal foundations”. The agency’s court submission asserted that the plan confronts “the nation’s most important and urgent environment challenge”.

Supporting the EPA plan are 18 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and environmental organizations. Supporters point to climate change and the resulting sea level rise and extreme weather to highlight the urgency of reducing emissions.

Proponents of the plan seemed optimistic after Tuesday’s hearing. Director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, David Doniger, said “The Clean Power Plan had a very good day. But we aren’t taking that to the bank just yet. What is certain, though, is we need to take swift and decisive action to combat climate change. This plan is our best available tool, and the court should uphold it. If we don’t limit carbon pollution, and quickly, we will bequeath to our children and all future generations a world of climate catastrophe.”

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