President Barack Obama’s attempt to leave a legacy of domestic action on climate change faces a proliferation of legal threats just as a global climate deal hangs in the balance, according to a state lawyer fighting the White House.
Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney-general, said that a Thursday court hearing on plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants was only “round one” in a fight he is leading from the US’s conservative heartland.Mr Pruitt argues that the president’s green regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency, is breaking the law by imposing state-by-state targets for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions and denying state governments a final say.
If his arguments prevail in the courts it will be a devastating blow for Mr Obama, jeopardising his effort to leave a legacy of decisive action on global warming with a policy dubbed the Clean Power Plan.
“What we see with the current EPA approach is almost an attitude that the states are a mere vessel of federal will,” Mr Pruitt said in his Oklahoma City office. “The [EPA] cannot simply bypass the statute. The process matters. And they have breached that with this proposed rule.”
An EPA spokesman said that lawsuits challenging the proposal before it was finalised were “premature”, but added: “We are confident in the legal underpinnings and the foundation on which the Clean Power Plan is built.”
A defeat for the White House would upset talks on a global climate change deal due to be finalised in Paris at the end of this year, not least because the US needs to close more coal power plants to achieve goals set in a landmark climate deal with China last year.
The US pledged to emit 26–28 per cent less greenhouse gas in 2025 than it did in 2005, while Beijing said it would ensure Chinese emissions peaked by about 2030.
Thomas Lorenzen, a former environmental lawyer at the justice department under Mr Obama and former president George W Bush, said the EPA did appear to have “usurped” the role of states.