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Climate Change

Obama: 'Don't despair' over US Supreme Court intervention in carbon emissions case

U.S. President Barack Obama told Democratic supporters Thursday not to “despair” over the Supreme Court’s decision to issue a stay on the administration’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, saying that “we are very confident we are on strong legal footing here.”

In his first comments on the court’s move, Obama told people at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Atherton, California, that it was important to remember that the court had not struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, but had frozen its implementation until a lawsuit over the plan works its way through the court system.

“The Supreme Court did something unusual this week,” Obama said, noting that it was rare for the court to intervene while the case was still waiting to be heard at the circuit court level.

“The centerpiece of our climate action plan involves working with states like California to come up with a strategy for reducing their carbon emissions,” Obama said. “We do so under the Clean Air Act, which the Supreme Court says requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions if we can show, as science has clearly shown, damage to public health.”

The president’s remarks referred to the 2007 Mass. v. EPA case in which the court said that carbon dioxide should be considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and therefore subject to regulation by EPA.

But the Supreme Court’s stay has shaken and startled many administration officials and environmental activists, because it is so rare for the high court to intervene at this stage of litigation. Moreover, four justices opposed issuing a stay and five supported it, suggesting that there is concern about the EPA plan among a majority of court members.

“One of the reasons I want to talk about this is because in the last couple of days I’ve heard people say, ‘The Supreme Court struck down the clean power plant rule’,” Obama said. “That’s not true, so don’t despair people. This a legal decision that says, ‘Hold on until we review the legality.’ We are very firm in terms of the legal footing here.”

But Obama also said that the case showed that the struggle over climate policy was alive and well.

“The reason I bring this up now is to underscore the fact this is going to be an enormous generational challenge,” he said. “There are going to be people constantly pushing back and making sure we keep clinging to old dirty fuels and a carbon-emitting economic strategy that we need to be moving away from.”

© 2016, The Washington Post

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