BISMARCK - North Dakota's lignite coal industry, congressional delegation and state officials are praising a U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday blocking the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan rules from taking effect until legal challenges are resolved.
The decision means the North Dakota Department of Health will immediately suspend work on a state plan to comply with the rules, which aim to address global warming by curbing carbon dioxide emissions, said Dave Glatt, chief of the department's environmental health section.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had given the state a Sept. 6 deadline for submitting the plan.
"It does give us a little breathing room," Glatt said Wednesday.
North Dakota is one of 27 states challenging the EPA rule released last August. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he was "extremely pleased" with the Supreme Court's decision, saying the Clean Power Plan would impose a particularly severe burden on North Dakota because most electricity in the state is generated by the state's seven lignite coal-fired plants.
The Clean Power Plan seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's power sector by 32 percent by 2030. North Dakota officials say the rule singled out the state by requiring its existing coal-fired plants to cut emissions by nearly 45 percent below 2012 levels - roughly four times more than what the EPA originally proposed in its draft rule, Stenehjem noted.
Lignite Energy Council President and CEO Jason Bohrer, who has warned that the rule will shutter some coal-fired plants, called the high court's decision "welcome relief" to the coal industry but said the "true winners" are consumers who rely on affordable and reliable electricity.
"The EPA ignored our comments and suggestions about how to craft a carbon dioxide rule that could work for North Dakota and instead produced a flawed proposal that would have put our prosperity at risk," he said.
Wayde Schafer, conservation organizer for the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club, said he's disappointed the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the rule but believes the Clean Power Plan will ultimately withstand legal challenges.
"I don't think we can read too much into that as far as the final decision about the Clean Power Plan," he said. "The disappointment comes from that we really do need to get on fixing this problem of climate change, and any delay is disappointing."
North Dakota Public Service Commission chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision is good news that will allow the process to work through the courts before utilities regulated by the PSC have to make changes.
"I think it really allows everybody to step back and consider what the EPA has proposed," she said.
Members of the state's congressional delegation have supported legislative efforts to thwart the rule, and Republican U.S. Sen. John Hoeven called the court's decision "logical and welcome."
"Clearly, the cost to coal companies and utilities to comply would be crippling and costly to consumers," he said in a statement
With coal providing 80 percent of North Dakota's electricity and supporting 13,000 jobs, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said it's "irresponsible to put policies in place that don't provide a viable path forward for coal." Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Obama's agenda "jeopardizes our state's and our nation's economic future."
A federal appeals court is expected to rule on the Clean Power Plan's legality in late summer or early fall, but Glatt and others predict the Supreme Court will ultimately settle the issue.
"This is a pretty big deal. The Supreme Court doesn't do this lightly, so we're encouraged by their approach," Glatt said of the stay issued Tuesday. "But we understand there's still a long road ahead of us."
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at email@example.com.