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New West Daily Roundup for Feb. 11, 2016

Today in New West news: Supreme Court halts implementation of Clean Power Plan, Colorado marijuana sales nearly crest at $1 billion for 2015, and one Idaho legislator wants to give counties the power to designate “nuisance” lands.

We previously reported a federal appeals court had rejected a lawsuit brought about by 27 states hoping to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to drastically reduce coal emissions and integrate more renewable energy sources into the power grid. Now, according to Time, the Supreme Court has gone ahead and placed a stay on implementation, a move that has coal states rejoicing and environmentalists scratching their heads:

By issuing the temporary freeze, a 5-4 majority of the justices signaled that opponents made strong arguments against the rules. The high court’s four liberal justices said they would have denied the request for delay.

The administration’s plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration’s plan is based on a strong legal and technical foundation, and gives the states time to develop cost-effective plans to reduce emissions. He also said the administration will continue to “take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions.”

A federal appeals court in Washington last month refused to put the plan on hold. That lower court is not likely to issue a ruling on the legality of the plan until months after it hears oral arguments begin on June 2.

Any decision will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, meaning resolution of the legal fight is not likely to happen until after Obama leaves office.

Compliance with the new rules isn’t required until 2022, but states must submit their plans to the Environmental Protection Administration by September or seek an extension.

We’ve also previously reported the state of Montana was already working to implement some of the plan’s requirements, even before the compliance deadline. According to Stephanie Joyce of Wyoming Public Radio and the Missoulian, however, they’ve already put those plans on hold, although Bullock says his administration is still committed to “[embracing] Montana’s energy future.” Indeed, some sources say the states may have no choice in the matter, as it’s in the hands of the market. From Time:

Regardless of what the court rules, many experts believe the energy sector will continue to decarbonize thanks to long-running market forces, which have driven down the costs of alternatives to the most damaging fossil fuels. Utilities had begun moving away from coal power well before the Clean Power Plan was announced in 2014 thanks to those forces. Coal-fired power plants produced half of the country’s electricity supply a decade ago and now only produce a third. In the meantime, the share of natural gas in the electricity mix has increased from less than a 20% to a third as well. Solar and wind power have also become cheaper.

“A transformation of the energy sector is happening under our feet,” said Sam Adams, director of the World Resources Institute’s U.S. Climate Initiative. “The Clean Power Plan definitely speeds along and supports the transformation, but the momentum is already there.”

Over in Colorado, another type of green is making news. According to the Cannabist (an affiliate of the Denver Post), cannabis sales hit nearly $1 billion in 2015.The final tally ran at $996,184,788, which, to paraphrase cannabis industry attorney Christian Sederberg, pretty darn close. From the Cannabist:

Colorado also collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015 — more than $35 million of which is earmarked for school construction projects.

“These are amazing numbers,” said attorney Steve Fox, one of the principal drafters of Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64, “especially on the tax revenue side.”

Colorado released marijuana tax data for December 2015 on Tuesday, showing a major uptick in month-over-month sales. Recreational pot sales jumped more than 21 percent from November to December, landing at $62.2 million — a monthly record in the state’s legal era. Medical sales jumped more than 32 percent in the same period, totaling $39.1 million.

The data on Colorado marijuana sales and taxes ended months of speculation surrounding the 2015 totals, which some believed would top $1 billion. Even though sales didn’t reach that lofty mark, legalization advocates are still content with the 2015 totals.

“It’s remarkable that less than seven years ago, all of that money was being spent in the underground market,” said Mason Tvert, the Marijuana Policy Project’s communications director. “Clearly there’s a large demand for marijuana, and we’re now seeing that demand being met by legitimate businesses that are answering to authorities instead of criminals who answer to nobody.”

You can see the full table at the Cannabist, but comparing 2015’s sales with 2014’s, one trend is apparent: medical marijuana sales, although substantive, were easily dwarfed by recreational sales. Medical marijuana took in $408,350,569 while recreational use took in $587,834,219.

Finally, up in Idaho, a new bill brought by state senator Sheryl Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood) before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee earlier this week would allow counties to declare state and federal lands “a ‘public nuisance’ if their maintenance leads to a big wildfire or other public health or safety risk,” according to Magic Valley. Although MV acknowledges the law would require some fine-tuning before it could be brought before the Idaho Legislature. From MV:

Modeled on a similar bill in Utah that is in turn based on a model bill from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, it would let a county’s elected officials or sheriff declare the nuisance. A similar bill has also been introduced in Arizona.

Western critics of the federal government say policies on logging and tree removal increase the risk of wildfires. The bill would let counties demand that state or federal land management agencies come up with a plan to deal with problems. If the agency doesn’t respond, county officials would be able to consult with a county prosecutor and state attorney general’s office on taking legal action.

“Really, it puts into state statutes what counties could do,” Nuxoll said, “and it just really helps the counties to work together.”

However, there is one line of the bill that said “state and federal,” and another that just said “federal.” Nuxoll withdrew the bill to clean up its language.

A couple of Utah counties have already invoked the law to address conditions on U.S. Forest Service land, said Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative group that supports increased state control of federally owned lands.

But the law can be used equally against the state government, Birnbaum said.

“The intent of the legislation was to give the means to challenge either/or,” he said.

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