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VA Power Shift Still Underway, Despite SCOTUS Stay

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed EPA carbon-pollution limits, observers expect Virginia's power grid to continue to move away from coal. (Sierra Club)
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed EPA carbon-pollution limits, observers expect Virginia's power grid to continue to move away from coal. (Sierra Club)
February 12, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Despite a Supreme Court ruling delaying carbon-pollution limits, observers expect the changes underway in Virginia's power grid to continue.

In response to a lawsuit by coal and oil companies and states, the court stayed implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's rules for existing power plants. But legal experts have pointed out that the court order merely pauses enforcement until legal challenges are finished. It's not a ruling on the merits or basis of the rules.

Former Obama climate policy adviser Heather Zichal, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, said the EPA's authority for the Clean Power Plan has been reviewed by the Supreme Court twice before.

"We're pretty confident that courts will ultimately uphold the Clean Power Plan," she said. "States are not going to back down. They know that this is the direction that the world is heading, and they know that there are real benefits for the economy as well as the environment."

Gov. Terry McAuliffe's office is still moving ahead to implement Clean Power Plan pollution limits. The coal and oil companies have argued that it will be disastrous for the economy and limit the availability of cheap power. But a few years ago, more than half U.S. electricity came from coal. Now it's less than 40 percent and falling quickly.

Tony Smith, president and chief executive of Staunton-based solar energy company Secure Futures, said he's astonished at how rapidly renewables have grown in Virginia and around the country in recent years.

"It's amazing to look back how much has changed in the state in terms of solar adoption," he said. "We're in the midst of a tectonic shift in public awareness and support for renewable energy."

According to polls done for the Sierra Club and others, Americans and Virginians overwhelmingly support carbon pollution limits. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals expects to hear the underlying lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan this summer.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA