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Appeals Court Undercuts Trump’s Legacy of Deregulation in Striking Down Administration’s EPA Carbon Rule


On his final full day in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump‘s deregulatory agenda suffered a serious blow as a federal appeals court ruled that the administration’s pro-industry Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule for carbon emissions violated federal law.

The ACE rule replaced the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP)—which aimed for a 30-percent reduction in power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 by requiring states to implement individualized plans. The ACE Rule, on the other hand, was a major facet of the Trump administration’s anti-regulation platform, effectively allowing states to set their own standards in deciding how to regulate carbon emissions. The Trump administration’s rule would have prolonged the life of highly pollutive coal-fired power plants indefinitely.

But a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the rule, remanding it back to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), thus allowing the incoming Biden administration to rewrite the emissions regulation from scratch.

“The question in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted lawfully in adopting the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule as a means of regulating power plants’ emissions of greenhouse gases. It did not,” the per curium opinion stated. “Although the EPA has the legal authority to adopt rules regulating those emissions, the central operative terms of the ACE Rule and the repeal of its predecessor rule, the Clean Power Plan hinged on a fundamental misconstruction of Section 7411(d) of the Clean Air Act. In addition, the ACE Rule’s amendment of the regulatory framework to slow the process for reduction of emissions is arbitrary and capricious.”

The court also noted that the agency’s own analysis revealed that the ACE rule was only projected toto reduce carbon emissions by less than one-percent by 2030.

“The EPA did not even hint at how or whether it determined that prolonging public exposure to ongoing harms from pollutants emitted by existing source categories could be justified consistent with the core objectives of the Clean Air Act. That failure is irrational, especially in the face of the EPA’s continued adherence to its 2015 finding of an urgent need to counteract the threats posed by unregulated carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The EPA made no mention whatsoever of the harms that Petitioners warned would result if the Agency slackened the pace of state and federal action to mitigate the harms Section 7411(d) targets,” the court wrote.

“The EPA offered what is at best a radically incomplete explanation for extending the compliance timeline. It offered undeveloped reasons of administrative convenience and regulatory symmetry, even as it ignored the environmental and public health effects of the Rule’s compliance slowdown. The EPA thus ‘failed to consider an important aspect of the problem,’—indeed, arguably the most important aspect.”

The order stems from multiple lawsuits filed against the Trump administration by environmental groups, clean energy companies, and blue cities and states who argued that the replacing the Obama-era rule with Trump’s plan was unlawful. The appeals court in October heard more than eight hours of oral arguments before issuing Tuesday’s 185-page opinion.

U.S. District Judges Patricia Ann Millett and Cornelia T.L. Pillard—both appointed by President Barack Obama—sided with the environmental groups. Trump-appointee Justin Walker concurred in the judgment in part and dissented in part.

See below for the full order.

DC Circuit EPA Decision by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via  YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.