Michael Oppenheimer, professor in the Department of Geosciences and the Wilson School, filed an amicus curiae brief on early April in defense of the Clean Power Plan, to be ruled on this June. He filed this brief in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit case, along with 20 other climate scientists invested in the issue.
The case, State of West Virginia, et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, challenges the federal agency's ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Power Plan. Twenty-four states, including New Jersey, are listed as plaintiffs,claiming that the EPA has overstepped its constitutional boundaries. The case could reverse Massachusetts v. EPA, a 2007 decision that upheld the EPA’s constitutionality to regulate greenhouse emissions.
The Clean Power Plan is President Barack Obama’s latest legislative push to combat climate change. According to climatecentral.org, the plan will “cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electric power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030” and is central to the Paris climate agreement.
In the brief co-signed by Oppenheimer, the coalition of scientists states that “evidence suggests that the continuing increase in greenhouse gas concentrations could have devastating effects around the world, including changes to the United States.”
“The Clean Power Plan is the only current policy that can produce reductions in our country’s greenhouse gas emissions,” the brief read.
According to Oppenheimer, whose extensive research on sea levels and migration was cited in the 2007 Supreme Court decision, the Clean Power Plan is a “landmark effort” that provides a comprehensive approach for the U.S. electricity sector to move away from coal and fossil fuels and progressively towards a de-carbonized, efficient society that relies on alternative energy.
“These regulations are the centerpiece of U.S. policy on climate change, which is among the top decisions that our leaders deal with,” he said.
He further noted that the Clean Power Plan allows the United States to “lead the way” in the global challenge to reduce pollution.
In February, the Supreme Court issued a decision to stay the Clean Power Plan until this ruling is complete.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest released a statement disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The Clean Power Plan is based on a strong legal and technical foundation, gives States the time and flexibility they need to develop tailored, cost-effective plans to reduce their emissions, and will deliver better air quality, improved public health, clean energy investment and jobs across the country, and major progress in our efforts to confront the risks posed by climate change,” he wrote in the statement sent to the ‘Prince’ by the White House Press Office.
“We need to be investing in the future, not the past. Instead of subsidizing… the oil industry, we should be investing in solar and wind and battery technology — all the things that promise us we can generate enormous power without destroying the planet for our kids and grandkids," Obama said at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in February.
In a different press release for the general media, the White House Press office said it believes the law will succeed in court challenges, although it could depend on whether Judge Merrick Garland is confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice.
According to statements provided by Larry Hajna, a spokesperson at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, one of the case's plaintiffs, the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, an ex-officio trustee of the University, believes that several provisions of the Clean Power Act constitute “unlawful extension of authority by EPA.”
The act “threatens New Jersey’s existing authority to manage and oversee its own energy future and disproportionately places an unfair burden on states that have already significantly reduced carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources,” the statement read.
“New Jersey has been way out front of other states in reducing carbon emissions from power plants, going back decades and thus far even surpassing federal requirements,” said Hajna.
Hajna further stated that New Jersey has to a large extent eliminated coal as a source of fuel from the power sector. Furthermore, New Jersey, despite its small size, ranks fourth in the nation in total solar capacity, Hajna added.
“We are doing so smartly and in an environmentally friendly manner, utilizing landfills, brownfields and rooftops as much as possible for platforms for solar energy,” he said.
Oppenheimer similarly noted that he believes it is very unlikely that the Supreme Court will completely reverse its previous ruling that upheld the EPA’s regulatory constitutionality.
However, he noted that those who deny climate change and human obligations to mitigate it will be hard to sway.
“Many people are skeptical for reasons that have nothing to do with the facts no matter what scientific evidence we point them to,” he said.