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High Court Temporarily Blocks Enforcement Of Carbon Emissions Rules


President Obama's climate agenda has hit a roadblock in the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court has temporarily blocked the EPA from enforcing a new rule that's designed to cut carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. And for more on this, we're joined by NPR's Scott Horsley. Good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us what the rule is exactly and why the high court put it on hold.

HORSLEY: It's called the Clean Power Plan, and it's really the centerpiece of President Obama's climate agenda. It's aimed at gradually reshaping the U.S. electricity industry away from coal-fired power plants, which are the number one source of those heat-trapping carbon gases. Now the EPA finalized the rule last summer, but it has been challenged by more than two dozen states. And late yesterday, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court granted those challengers' requests to put the rule on hold at least until an appeals court can decide whether the EPA was exceeding its authority. White House officials say they are confident the rule will ultimately be upheld, but there's no question they were caught off guard by this decision, which could be seen as an ominous sign for the president's broader climate agenda.

MONTAGNE: Well, it does seem so, but give us all the whys.

HORSLEY: Well, this was an aggressive move by the Supreme Court. Administration officials say they can't recall another instance in which the high court put a rule like this one on hold before a lower court even had a chance to review it. It's especially surprising because the power plant rule has a fairly long phase-in period. States aren't required to come up with plans to cut their carbon emissions until 2018, and the first real reductions don't kick in until 2022. So the high court could've said, well, let's wait and see what happens. Let the court cases play out. Instead, you have five justices who voted to halt the rule at least temporarily. And that could be seen as a signal they're skeptical of the EPA's actions, even though the high court had previously given the agency a green light to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

MONTAGNE: Well, Scott, what now?

HORSLEY: Well, an appeals court has said to hear arguments in the case in June. Whoever loses there is likely to go back to the Supreme Court. For the moment, though, opponents have some breathing room. Those opponents include Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, a big coal state. The coal industry has other problems, though, besides just government regulation. Coal has been losing market share in the power industry to cheaper, cleaner natural gas-fired plants. And it's also facing increased competition from renewable sources of power.

MONTAGNE: Scott, thanks much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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