In a passionate announcement on Monday (it's worth
watching), President Barack Obama unveiled the United
States' plan for doing its part to combat climate change: the
Clean Power Plan (the "Plan"). The Plan sets out to reduce greenhouse
gas ("GHG") emissions from power stations, which comprise
the single largest source of emissions in the United States.
Describing climate change as "one of the key challenges of
our lifetimes," and the Plan as "the single most
important step that America has ever taken in the fight against
global climate change," Obama conveyed the urgency of the
problem, and the catastrophic consequences of inaction, while also
offering hope that climate change is a problem that, like acid rain
and extreme industrial pollution, is ultimately solvable. Perhaps
even more positively, Obama's announcement signalled the United
States' commitment to being a global leader on this
The Plan ultimately seeks to reduce carbon emissions on a
national level by 32 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. In
accomplishing this goal, it treads a fine line between
encroaching upon state authority and ensuring that the reductions
will take place. It will do this by assigning each state a goal for
reducing power plant emissions, and requiring them to submit a
proposal to the federal Environmental Protection Agency
("EPA") outlining how they plan to meet it. Ultimately,
it will be up to individual states to determine how they will meet
The plan has sparked a predictable bluster of virulent
opposition, with some citing the Plan's economic consequences as
"catastrophic" and describing its approach as
"unworkable" and a power grab. Indeed, plans to launch
well in advance of Monday's announcement.
The Obama administration is clearly banking on the assumption
that, in the virtually certain event that the Plan is challenged in
the courts, the Supreme Court of the United States will rule that
the federal EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to
regulate GHG emissions in this way. In the recent past, the EPA has
enjoyed some success before the Supreme Court in defending its
authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act. In its landmark
2014 decision in
Utility Air Regulatory Group v EPA, for example, the Supreme
Court held that the EPA had the authority to regulate GHG
However, in other recent decisions, the Supreme Court has
demonstrated a somewhat less deferential approach towards the
EPA's regulating activities. For example, in its decision
Michigan v EPA, the Court effectively blocked an EPA regulation
designed to limit mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-fired
Nevertheless, and in the meantime, the Plan will provide a boost
to global efforts to reduce emissions and offer encouragement to
countries—such as Canada—whose own efforts are
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Ontario's Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change continues to roll out its Climate Change Action Plan with its proposed GHG guide for projects that are subject to the province's Environmental Assessment Act.
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