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Does Scalia’s Passing Change High Court Equation on Clean Power?

Some legal experts say the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this weekend could impact last week's stay of the EPA's Clean Power plan. (Steven Masker/flckr)
Some legal experts say the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this weekend could impact last week's stay of the EPA's Clean Power plan. (Steven Masker/flckr)
February 15, 2016

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - The sudden passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this weekend could change the balance on the high court with regard to the Clean Power Plan. Justice Scalia voted with the majority in the 5-4 decision to stay the plan and its carbon-reduction goals.

The vote was made along ideological lines, and some legal experts say Scalia's death improves the longer-term odds for the Clean Power Plan.

Julie Gorte is a Senior Vice President for Sustainable Investing at Pax World Management in Portsmouth. Even before Scalia's passing, she says, the high court was not likely to throw the plan out.

"It was the Supreme Court that actually affirmed that regulating greenhouse gas emissions is covered by the Clean Air Act, which is already U.S. law," says Gorte. "So, for the Supreme Court to really kill the Clean Power Plan would mean that they'd have to reverse an earlier Supreme Court ruling, which they rarely do."

The high court put a stay on the plan last week in response to a challenge by 27 states that say more pollution limits would mean lost jobs and reduced electric-grid reliability.

Gorte notes New Hampshire is already reducing emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) without economic harm. Instead, she says it has reduced utility bills and saved jobs, without increasing tax bills.

Gorte says American investment in clean energy was a record $330 million last year. She says despite increased competition and sagging oil prices, the prospects remain positive.

"It is still at a record high, and it is going well," says Gorte. "I think investors really do understand the need to change our energy infrastructure. Whatever the Supreme Court does, coal is pretty much dead. Nobody's building any new coal plants; there haven't been any built for years."

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the Clean Power Plan will produce $54 billion in health and climate benefits. Heather Zichal, a former deputy assistant for Energy and Climate for President Obama, says the prudent move is for states to move forward on reducing carbon emissions.

"As we have seen the growing body of scientific evidence showing that climate change is happening, the impacts are real in our communities and our states, it really does underscore that the time to act is now," says Zichal.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH