How did we get here?
U.S. EPA's implementation of the Clean Power Plan is on hold while the courts review the rule. The Trump administration also is likely to rescind the power sector climate regulation or replace it with far less stringent standards.
Finalized in August 2015, the Clean Power Plan sought to cut electricity carbon emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
While 27 states opposed the rule and 18 supported it, the vast majority of states around the country were working on compliance plans until the Supreme Court halted the Clean Power Plan in February 2016.
Even conservative states were looking at using politically controversial carbon trading or cap-and-trade systems to meet their individual goals. Carbon trading would allow companies that fell short of their goals to buy credits from other utilities, saving money for consumers (Climatewire, Jan. 21, 2016).
After the surprising and unusual Supreme Court order, some states vowed to keep planning. Most stopped or slowed their work. Then conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died, throwing off the balance of the bench. Onlookers believed Hillary Clinton would win the White House and appoint a liberal judge. Hopes brightened for the Clean Power Plan (Climatewire, Feb. 16, 2016).
In September 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments on the lawsuit from opposing states and industry interests. Many thought EPA had a good day in court (Climatewire, Sept. 28, 2016).
But the tables turned in November 2016, when Donald Trump won the presidential election (Climatewire, Nov. 9, 2016).
Trump had promised to nix the rules and Obama-era climate action. His EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, led state challenges against the rule and has argued that if the agency regulates carbon, it should focus only on efficiency improvements at coal plants (Power Plan Hub, Jan. 23, 2017).
Now Trump and Pruitt will try to roll back the Clean Power Plan. Doing so will require an official rulemaking and could take years. Environmental groups plan to sue, which will also take time to resolve. In the meantime, the rule will not move forward (Climatewire, Jan. 24, 2017).
Since the rule was initially proposed, the power sector has decarbonized faster than expected. Some estimates show the United States is already two-thirds of the way to meeting the Clean Power Plan's 2030 goals, far ahead of schedule. Many utilities are still trying to lower their emissions and assume they will need to comply with a carbon regulation or price on carbon in the coming years, despite the Trump administration's reversal from previous policy.
While political debates about how much the rule could cost have raged, E&E News has reported that it would be nearly impossible to estimate the impacts on power bills without knowing how states would comply (Climatewire, March 29).
Coal-heavy states would have felt the changes more than greener states, as was clear in North Dakota and Montana, for example (Climatewire, Sept. 19, 2016; Climatewire, April 12, 2016).
To review the basics of the Clean Power Plan, watch our E&E Explains video.
To learn more about how the rule works technically, read our explainer.
To read more about Clean Power Plan lawsuits, see our overview of legal challenges.
To see research and other resources prepared by consultants and trade groups, visit our Power Plan Toolbox.