In a major victory for the Obama administration, a panel of federal judges has blocked a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's planned efforts to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants.
Tuesday's ruling does not prevent future legal challenges against the rules but states that a challenge before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit came too early, as EPA has not yet finalized its climate rule. That action is expected later this summer.
The case, brought by coal company Murray Energy and a coalition of states led by West Virginia, was an early skirmish in the high-stakes legal battle over the rules, which stand as the centerpiece of President Obama's second-term climate-change agenda.
It was highly unusual in that it attempted to challenge the legality of a federal rule before it had been made final. At least two of the judges on the three-judge federal panel appeared hesitant during oral arguments in April to side with state and industry challengers, suggesting that such a move would break with long-held precedent and open the floodgates to future legal challenges against not-yet-final rules.
"Petitioners are champing at the bit to challenge EPA's anticipated rule restricting carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants. But EPA has not yet issued a final rule. It has issued only a proposed rule," stated Judge Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the majority of the three-judge panel. "They want us to do something that they candidly acknowledge we have never done before: review the legality of a proposed rule. But a proposed rule is just a proposal."