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Supreme Court puts brakes on EPA plan to cut emissions

Coal-fired power plants, such as this one near Burgin, Ky., could have been affected by the Obama administration’s emissions-reduction plan the Supreme Court put on hold Tuesday.
Coal-fired power plants, such as this one near Burgin, Ky., could have been affected by the Obama administration’s emissions-reduction plan the Supreme Court put on hold Tuesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court has put President Barack Obama’s emissions-reduction plan on hold, in a victory for Kentucky and more than two dozen states that had sued to stop it.

Thanks to a five-justice majority on the high court Tuesday, those states do not have to comply, at least for now, with the Clean Power Plan until a lower court has resolved the legal case against it.

Under the plan, states would have to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by a third by 2030. But states that rely heavily on coal to produce electricity, including Kentucky and West Virginia, had argued that the plan was unconstitutional.

Kentucky is the nation’s third-leading coal producer behind Wyoming and West Virginia, and much like those states gets the vast majority of its electricity from coal.

In a statement, Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, called the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan “great news.” Bissett’s group represents companies that mine 90 percent of the state’s coal.

“While there is much more work to do,” he said, “this ruling is the first step to restoring coal as the affordable, reliable electricity source that has powered both Kentucky and this country.”

This ruling is the first step to restoring coal as the affordable, reliable electricity source that has powered both Kentucky and this country.

Bill Bissett, president, Kentucky Coal Association

The amount of coal produced in Kentucky has declined precipitously in recent years, as has the number of workers employed in coal mining.

Economic factors, such reduced electricity demand, lower coal prices and an abundance of cheaper natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, have put pressure on the industry.

In Kentucky, Republicans have put Democrats on the defensive by tying Obama’s energy policies to coal’s decline. Since Obama took office, Republicans have shut Democrats out of the governor’s mansion, both U.S. Senate seats and five of the state’s six House seats.

Former state Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan, but still lost to Republican Matt Bevin in the November gubernatorial election.

“Big win for KY,” tweeted Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, one of the few Democrats to win statewide in November, after the court’s decision on Tuesday.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this post undercounted the number of states that had sued to block the Clean Power Plan.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

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