Yesterday's order from the Supreme Court can be found here. It was a 5-4 decision, breaking down on the usual lines, with Sotomayor, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer in dissent.
This does not prevent any state from continuing to work on its implementation plans, and we certainly hope Minnesota does not slow down its efforts. The EPA will not be able to order states to do anything or impose any federal plan on them until after the Supreme Court has decided the case.
The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has the case on an expedited schedule, so it will be briefed and argued this spring and summer, and likely decided by the end of the year. The Supreme Court can then take the case up in its next Term, but would likely not decide it until early summer 2017.
It's a bad decision (see comments from California AG Kamala Harris), but it does not at all mean the rules are doomed. I think the EPA is on a solid legal footing, and even this Court has been generally upholding Clean Air Act decisions. It is not news that five members of the Court likely don't care for this rule (or very many environmental rules) but that does not mean one or two of those five won't vote to uphold it. As I've written about previously, the statutory interpretation argument the opponents are making is a lot like the argument about the state vs. federal health insurance exchanges that the Court, and Chief Justice Roberts, rejected just last year.
Nice piece in, of all places, the New York Times over the weekend on how some big farmers are using cover crops to improve their soil health. Cover crops are also a crucial element of any strategy to reduce nitrate pollution in groundwater and surface water, because these crops will take up nitrogen that the corn and soybeans don't. The article makes the essential point that there are economic benefits for farmers who adopt this practice, wholly aside from the significant environmental benefits.
Last Friday's Washington Post highlighted a new study on the "social costs" of air pollution caused by energy production in the U.S. The abstract of the article in the March 2016 issue of the journal Energy Policy can be found here. The report shows that the costs remain astronomically high, but also that they are dropping, which reflects changes due to more effective regulation. The study also explores the "spatial heterogeneity" of air pollution effects in more detail. That is important, because our current air pollution regulatory system is driven by average emissions, even though the health effects and therefore the economic effects disproportionately fall on certain typically disadvantaged communities.
Spot-on cover article in the February Harper's, largely focusing on agribusiness's dominance of Iowa politics and the resulting environmental calamity with Iowa's water. The water quality problems we see in southern and western Minnesota exist statewide in Iowa, but Iowa's political system has, to date, shown no interest in solving them. The jury's out on whether Minnesota can do better.
A group of law professors published a paper last month arguing for application of section 115 of the Clean Air Act to build on the progress made by the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan. This provision allows the EPA to set emissions limits for states that go beyond the limits on particular industry sectors, like electricity generation, which is the CPP's focus. What is required is a finding that the US is emitting pollutants that endanger public health in other countries (endangerment) and that other countries are making commitments to reduce pollutant emissions that threaten the United States (reciprocity). Both are in place--we have tons of research on the effects of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and now, with the Paris CAP-21 accord, we meet the reciprocity requirement.
We certainly urge the Administration (and the next one too) to fully explore the section 115 option. At the same time, we see no reasons why states who want to be leaders on climate need to confine their implementation plans to meet Clean Power Plan targets to the electric power sector or to the CPP's less-than-ambitious targets. The Clean Power Plan will not take us to where we need to be. Minnesota's leaders know that we need to go further, but perhaps the possibility of section 115 will help create the political will to achieve more on GHG reductions. Let's hope.