It’s been a long time coming, but the Clean Power Plan is finally finished. But it might still be a while before it’s finally here. 

The Clean Power Plan then

The Clean Power Plan was initially proposed last year, and was hailed as historic for its goal of reducing coal pollution by 30 percent. Unveiled in June 2014, it was the keystone of Obama’s climate agenda and with more than 4.3 million public comments and vigorous opposition from conservative politicians and industry groups alike, quickly found itself in hot water.

By January, it seemed to be a virtual certainty that the CPP would find itself challenged in court in the future, especially under the Clean Air Act’s section 111(d). Passed with two different versions of the section, one allows the EPA to regulate pollutants from power plants, and the other doesn’t. And as Scott DuBoff writes for the Northwest Land Law Forum that’s opened up a hole in the CPP from the beginning:

The Clean Power Plan is widely acknowledged by stakeholders across the spectrum (industry, state and local government, environmental organizations, etc.) as one of the most far reaching proposals in EPA’s 45-year history, and how courts interpret section 111(d) (which will include interpretive questions beyond those noted here) will be very important to the Clean Power Plan’s success or failure. If President Obama’s CO2 reduction initiative is upheld, it is likely to be the President’s signature environmental achievement. EPA is expected to take final action on the Clean Power Plan by mid-summer.

The Clean Power Plan now

And now that action is here.

obamaPresident Obama held a press conference Monday afternoon to officially announce the final CPP rules. Its main goal continues to be a (updated) goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.

Traditionally, Clean Air Act performance standards are set for the “emitters,” or the polluting facilities, to meet. But the CPP targets states’ power sectors at a whole instead. To achieve its goal, the plan will use state-by-state targets that would allow each state to tailor their implementation plans to meet the goals set by the EPA. Unlike the first iteration of the bill, however, states will have until 2022 to comply, instead of 2020 as initially proposed. And, similarly to the Affordable Care Act, any states that don’t establish their own plans will be subject to a plan written by federal officials for the state.

It’s the latest step in the backend of Obama’s presidency that suggests that fighting climate change is high on his priorities. To Obama, this is a problem that we can no longer afford to drag our feet on.

“Climate change is no longer just about the future that we’re predicting for our children or our grandchildren, it is about the reality that we’re living with everyday right now,” he said during his video address. “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change. I am here to say if we want to protect our economy, our security, and our children’s health we have to do more. The science tells us we have to do more.”

What does this all mean?

Of course not everyone agrees on that action. The plan has already drawn the ire of coal companies, who argue that the act will increase the cost of electricity, and politicians, who have called the rule “irresponsible and overreaching.”

“The typeface on this rule hasn’t even cooled off yet, and already we’ve got Mitch McConnell, leader of the U.S. Senate, encouraging breaking this rule. That’s how sad the political environment is,” said Shawn Collins, environmental lawyer and author on Pollution Law Watch. “This is an EPA rule; it didn’t come from Congress. It should’ve come from Congress, it should be a law. What the Obama administration is trying to accomplish here is to save lives and cut down on climate change. That should be something that everyone in Congress can agree on.”

And given that the plan comes from a governmental agency, not Congress, Collins said we shouldn’t expect this rule to go unchallenged—in fact, he can almost guarantee that there will be delays from lengthy court battles.

Given the sweeping scope of the CPP, there’s a few angles that opponents are likely to try in court, including the aforementioned section 111(d), ability for the EPA to target states instead of “emitters,” and more. Given that, it’s unclear exactly what the courts will have to say on the subject.

“When the EPA issues a rule like this it has to jump through hoops—and it should. The Clean Power Plan is a very impactful rule change to how a lot of power is delivered in this country, and it should be the result of a thoughtful process. The way these kinds of agency rules get challenged is to say the agency didn’t jump through all the regulatory hoops required, and all the opponents have to prove is that there is one of many they missed,” said Collins, noting that the EPA’s loss at the last Supreme Court session showed federal courts weren’t afraid to send rules decades in the making back to the drawing board. And worse, it doesn’t take much.

“It’s impossible to say what aspect of this might draw a court’s attention. My hope will be that they will focus on the absolutely necessary changes that this rule provokes. We spend so much time in the court system talking about the dollars and cents cost of a rule like this, we spend not enough time talking about the costs that we will have to bear if we don’t have a rule like this. People dying, more climate change, increased global warming; those are costs too. And just because it’s harder to put a dollar amount on them doesn’t mean they’re not important.”

For now both the short and long-term effect of the rule will remain to be seen. A new, “coal-friendly” president in 2016 could mean a CPP reversal, according to Collins. A great deal of the rule’s future relies on whether, when the case inevitably goes to court, there is an immediate stay on the rule or if the ruling will be allowed to remain in effect while the court explores the issue.

But Collins remains optimistic.

“When—as I fully expect—this rule ultimately emerges intact after court battles, we’re going to see a gradually but significantly cleaner and healthier society. It took a long time for us to try and destroy the planet as we have, and for us to get so deeply dependent on dirty energy; that doesn’t change overnight,” said Collins. “[But] that change is clearly the way our country and this world are going, and the only question—and it’s an enormous question—is, how long it takes us to get there.”