Challenge To N.Y.’s Clean Energy Standard Thrown Out In Federal Court


A federal court says that New York’s plan to advance clean energy and reduce climate pollution is constitutional, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a challenge to the state’s clean energy standard (CES), namely its zero-emissions credit (ZEC) program.

Judge Valerie Caproni ruled in the case, Coalition for Competitive Electricity v. Zibelman, holding, “The ZEC program is plainly related to a matter of legitimate state concern: the production of clean energy and the reduction of carbon emissions from the production of other energy.”

“Today’s court decision is a victory for communities and families across New York that will have greater climate security, healthier air and cleaner energy,” says EDF Senior Attorney Michael Panfil in a press release. “The court strongly affirmed the state’s authority to protect New Yorkers from climate pollution – an outcome that could not be more critical at a time when the U.S. government is failing to protect human health and the environment from the dangers of climate change.”

EDF filed an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief in support of the state of New York. As the group notes, New York’s landmark clean energy standard charts a course for the state to achieve a 40% reduction in statewide greenhouse gases by 2030, as well as for 50% of New York’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The ZEC program provides credits to certain nuclear generators for their zero-emissions electricity production and is a component of the state’s CES, which also includes a renewable energy credit program. It ensures that dangerous climate pollution is properly accounted for in New York’s electricity generation portfolio, according to EDF.

“New York’s commitment to clean, zero-emitting energy will have profound health and safety benefits for millions of New Yorkers,” comments Rory Christian, EDF’s director of New York Clean Energy. Christian adds that the court decision means the state “can continue to be a national leader in the effort to protect the world from the dangers of climate change.”

In October, a group of electricity generation companies challenged the ZEC program in court, claiming it was unconstitutional because it improperly usurped the power of the federal government, according to EDF.

On Tuesday, the court struck down that argument, holding, “The [Federal Power Act] is a paragon of cooperative federalism; it divides responsibility for the regulation of energy between state and federal regulators … statutes such as the [Federal Power Act], where ‘coordinate state and federal efforts exist within a complementary administrative framework, and in the pursuit of common purposes, the case for federal pre-emption becomes a less persuasive one.’”

EDF points out that this the third court win in a row for state clean energy plans. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided in favor of Connecticut’s renewable energy policy, and earlier this month, a U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit challenging a similar ZEC program to support nuclear generation contained in Illinois’ broad Future Energy Jobs Act.

Exelon Corp., an energy giant whose nuclear power plants were preserved under Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, has praised the court ruling on New York’s ZEC program. In a statement, the company calls the decision “good news for New York’s climate efforts and citizens across the state.”

The company says, “The CES employs the same legal policy mechanisms that states have been using for years to support investment in other sources of clean energy, such as wind and solar. We are confident that the court’s ruling will be respected by state and federal regulators and other policymakers who support the continued operation of the nation’s nuclear plants and the clean, resilient and affordable energy they provide. As policymakers work toward reforms that will ensure that electricity markets properly value carbon, these programs serve as an important bridge to a fully market-based solution.”

In a statement, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, D-N.Y., says, “I applaud today’s ruling that supports our constitutional right to protect New Yorkers with our nation-leading initiative to ensure a healthy environment for all. We are in a global fight to combat climate change, and today’s ruling ensures our progress will not be blocked or rolled back by fossil fuel interests and others seeking to maintain the status quo.”

The governor adds, “The court forcefully ruled that the clean energy standard and its zero emissions credit program are valid tools to use to combat climate change. At a time when the federal government has abdicated its leadership on climate change, New York will continue to do all that we can to ensure that current and future generations have a clean and safe environment in which to live and prosper.”

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