Former Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, contradicting the Obama White House, has said a Supreme Court order temporarily halting an EPA rule on power plant emissions could derail President Obama’s cherished global climate change agreement.
In a document filed in the federal court case over the administration’s Clean Power Plan, Mrs. Albright said a stay of the EPA regulation by the high court “could derail the international momentum to implement the emission reduction commitments achieved at the Paris climate conference.”
“Specifically, a stay of the Clean Power Plan would likely cast doubt on the ability of the United States to achieve domestic emission reductions and lead other nations to delay implementing emission reductions,” Mrs. Albright said in a brief filed in December. “Such a loss of momentum could quickly snowball, causing more nations to signal their intent to delay. If the loss of momentum were great enough, it could not be repaired even following a decision on the merits upholding the Clean Power Plan.”
The Supreme Court issued the emergency order Tuesday to block temporarily implementation of the EPA rule, which would require states to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Mr. Obama relied on the plan to persuade other nations at the Paris conference in December about the U.S. commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.
At a Democratic fundraiser in California on Thursday, Mr. Obama said he is “very confident we are on strong legal footing” when a federal appeals court addresses the merits of the plan in June. He said the regulation is crucial to show his administration’s global leadership on climate change.
“I could not be prouder of our efforts to mobilize 200 nations around the world to say, ‘This is a problem,’” Mr. Obama said. “That’s the essence of American leadership, but that American leadership depends on us, depends on an administration that believes in science, for example.”
White House officials are saying the Supreme Court’s action won’t prompt other countries to back out of the global accord, which is expected to be signed formally at a U.N. conference in April. But Mrs. Albright argued that a stay “would seriously impede the administration’s ability to achieve the important foreign policy objective of reducing dangerous global climate change.”
And representatives of several advocacy groups said Thursday that other nations are expressing concern about the Supreme Court ruling and whether the U.S. will keep its commitment to the deal.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said international representatives at a climate strategy conference he attended in Berlin on Thursday were raising “questions about what [the] ruling indicates about where the court might come down on the merits” of the case.
Mr. Meyer also said there is “a little bit of nervousness” among other nations’ negotiators about “a possible repeat of the situation with the Kyoto Protocol.” The Clinton administration signed that global climate accord in 1998, but it was never submitted to the Senate for ratification, and a nonbinding vote of disapproval passed the Senate 95-0.
While most countries are willing to wait to see how the court case plays out, Mr. Meyer said, “there’s a lot of interest in hearing more directly from the administration on the outlook for the Clean Power Plan and overall progress” toward the U.S. meeting its emission reduction goals.
David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative, said the administration needs to reassure other countries that the Supreme Court ruling is just a temporary setback.
“Clarifying that globally will put a lot of people at greater ease,” he said.
Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club, said the “landscape has changed” since Mrs. Albright filed her court brief two months ago. She said the extension of clean energy tax credits will help to ensure the U.S. is meeting its targets for emission reductions.
“There’s a symbolic value to the Clean Power Plan, and there’s a symbolic problem with that when the Supreme Court stays it,” Ms. Spalding said. “There’s no doubt that’s an issue. But in terms of actually achieving the goals in the electric sector, we’re on a trajectory to do that already.”
John Coequyt, director of federal and international climate campaigns for the Sierra Club, said the Paris agreement is “here to stay.”
“The fact is the United States’ climate commitments made in Paris continue to move full speed ahead as we work toward our 2017 goal of replacing half of U.S. coal with clean energy,” he said.