Congress backs court challenge to Obama’s climate change plan

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The coal-fired Castle Gate Power Plant is pictured outside Helper, Utah. The plant was closed in the spring 2015 in anticipation of new EPA regulations. Photo by George Frey/Reuters

The coal-fired Castle Gate Power Plant is pictured outside Helper, Utah. The plant was closed in the spring 2015 in anticipation of new EPA regulations. Photo by George Frey/Reuters

WASHINGTON — More than 200 members of Congress are backing a court challenge to President Barack Obama’s plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

A brief filed Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington argues that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its legal authority and defied the will of Congress by regulating carbon dioxide emissions.

Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., those signing on include Republican presidential candidates and senators Ted Cruz of Texas, and Marco Rubio of Florida. Of the 34 senators and 171 House members listed, Sen. Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia is the lone Democrat.

“If Congress desired to give EPA sweeping authority to transform the nation’s electricity sector, Congress would have provided for that unprecedented power in detailed legislation,” the brief says.

About two dozen mostly GOP-led states have sued to stop the Clean Power Plan, which aims to slow climate change by cutting power-plant emissions by one-third by 2030. The Supreme Court last month barred the Obama administration from beginning implementation of the plan until the legal challenges are resolved.

The attorneys general of West Virginia and Texas are leading the legal fight, backed by 27 conservative states where some officials are openly dismissive of climate science and where many jobs rely on economic activity tied to fossil fuels.

Argument of the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is set to begin June 2. Under the Clean Air Act, certain challenges to new EPA rules skip the federal district court and go directly to the appeals court. Regardless of which side prevails, further appeal to the Supreme Court is almost certain, pushing any final decision into at least 2017.

Implementation of the new emissions rules is considered essential to the U.S. meeting carbon-reduction targets in a global climate agreement signed in Paris in December. Obama’s plan also encourages more development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar by further ratcheting down any emissions allowed from new coal-fired power plants, which the administration and environmental groups say the plan will spur new clean-energy jobs.

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