The legal challenge against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan names the Environmental Protection Agency as the defendant. But make no mistake: It’s Congress that’s on trial. And it’s Congress’s inaction that should ultimately compel the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to rule in the EPA’s favor. Opponents of EPA’s regulations, which aim to cut carbon emissions from electric-power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels, are right about this much: This is a deeply imperfect policy. It relies on a novel application of the Clean Air Act, written well before the dangers of global warming were fully understood. And it can’t easily be updated to reflect changes on the ground, such as the faster-than-expected decline of coal. But Congress left the Obama administration no choice. The only way to avert potentially disastrous climate change is to lower emissions as soon as possible. Congress’s refusal since 2010 to consider any climate policy at all forced the EPA to look for alternatives.
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