The entire bench of the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia is hearing nearly four hours of arguments tomorrow in 39 lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan regulation. The challengers represent a broad swath of industries, including mining, transportation, electric utilities, manufacturers and consumers of energy, as well as 27 states.
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action, joined by a manufacturing coalition of more than a dozen other national trade groups, is involved in this case because we are very concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has imposed a set of regulations on electric utility companies that is not authorized by, and contradicts specific provisions of, the Clean Air Act. The rule’s goal is to restructure the power sector by imposing emissions limits that are unachievable without switching fuel inputs. This could undermine the reliability of the electric grid and cause higher energy rates for consumers, including manufacturers in the United States. A ruling in favor of the rule would set the EPA up to impose greenhouse gas regulations on many other sectors of manufacturing.
This case has all the earmarks of a major case that will wind up in the Supreme Court, probably in the fall of 2017. Normally only three judges would hear this first round of arguments, but the appellate court decided to go straight to the full panel of 10 (not counting Chief Judge Garland, who is not participating). This unusual step signals that the judges consider this case extraordinary, and the court has set aside its largest courtroom and two overflow rooms for the large anticipated attendance from litigants and the public.
This regulation is of existential importance for certain sectors and will put substantial upward pressure on energy costs for many manufacturers and other consumers. But beyond raising legal issues of statutory construction, administrative procedure and constitutional compliance, the Clean Power Plan is a prototype for the kind of regulation that tests the limits of the executive branch. Whoever wins the upcoming election, the next administration will have to live within the contours of decisions like the one in this case. The power to regulate comes from the Constitution and the laws enacted in compliance with it, and the courts stand as the final judge on how far that authority goes.