D.C. Circuit Strikes Down Trump Administration Repeal and Replacement of the Clean Power Plan

January 19, 2021

(Washington, D.C. – January 19, 2021) On the last day of Donald Trump’s presidency, the second highest court in the land has struck down one of the most damaging anti-environmental actions of his administration.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today vacated the Trump EPA’s repeal and “replacement” of the Clean Power Plan – the historic Obama-era standards that set the first-ever limits for climate change pollution from existing power plants.

“Today’s decision is the perfect Inauguration Day present for America. It confirms that the Trump administration’s dubious attempt to get rid of commonsense limits on climate pollution from power plants was illegal, it reaffirms that the Clean Air Act and the Endangerment Finding are the law of the land, and it restores the vibrancy of the rule of law,” said EDF Senior Attorney Ben Levitan. “Now we can turn to the critically important work of protecting Americans from climate change and creating new clean energy jobs.”

The Clean Power Plan established our only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants – one of the United States’ largest sources of the pollution that causes climate change. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler scrapped the Clean Power Plan in 2019 and issued in its place the misleadingly named Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which established no meaningful limits on carbon pollution and would have actually increased pollution at nearly one in five of the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

EDF was part of a broad coalition of 14 health and environmental groups, 23 states and eight cities, nine power companies, and three clean energy associations that filed suit shortly after the ACE rule was finalized last year.

Today, the D.C. Circuit issued a decision forcefully upholding that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gases as specified in the Endangerment Finding, and saying:

“The question in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted lawfully in adopting the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule) as a means of regulating power plants’ emissions of greenhouse gases. It did not. Although the EPA has the legal authority to adopt rules regulating those emissions, the central operative terms of the ACE Rule and the repeal of its predecessor rule, the Clean Power Plan, hinged on a fundamental misconstruction of Section 7411(d) of the Clean Air Act. In addition, the ACE Rule’s amendment of the regulatory framework to slow the process for reduction of emissions is arbitrary and capricious.” (Decision, page 16)

The decision sends the rulemaking back to EPA so that the Biden-Harris Administration “may consider the question afresh” and issue new protections. (Decision, page 147).

Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. With offices in the United States, China, Mexico, United Kingdom and Indonesia, EDF’s 750 scientists, economists, attorneys — and our allies — work in 26 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.

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