Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Political Science

First Advisor

Denise Keele

Second Advisor

Mark Hurwitz

Third Advisor

Paul Clements


The consensus among scientists is that climate change and its consequences are upon us as the result of human activity. The necessary reductions of emissions of greenhouse gases to mitigate these consequences have long been identified. The continued failure of the United States Congress to pass any national legislation directly addressing climate change has led President Obama to pursue executive action, through the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act section 111(d). Collectively known as the Clean Power Plan, the heart of this action is the carbon dioxide emissions Final Rule which requires the nation’s existing fossil fuel-fired power plants to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

Litigation challenging the Clean Power Plan Final Rule commenced immediately upon its publication in the federal register in October, 2015, and now the fate of the Obama administration’s plan is in the hands of the federal courts. Accordingly, this research was aimed at examining two primary questions: 1) what are the arguments for and against the Clean Power Plan’s legality, and 2) what is the likely political and legal future of the Clean Power Plan? While the arguments challenging the Clean Power Plan are diverse and persuasive, this research concludes that the Final Rule is likely to survive its upcoming D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals appearance in June, 2016, for legal and political reasons. However, it is also nearly certain that the Clean Power Plan litigation will subsequently be heard by the United States Supreme Court, and the likelihood of the Final Rule’s success at the Supreme Court is difficult, if not impossible, to determine at this time. However, given the lack of avenues to address climate change in the United States at this time, this research concludes that Clean Air Act section 111(d) is currently the best legal avenue for the Obama administration to issue the Clean Power Plan Final Rule, even in light of the uncertainty of an almost imminent Supreme Court decision.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Open Access

thesis defense.pdf (528 kB)
Defense Presentation