By Jeff Mason and Valerie Volcovici
ATHERTON, Calif./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday called the Supreme Court's decision to delay implementation of his administration's Clean Power Plan "unusual" and expressed confidence that the White House would prevail.
"We’re very confident that we’re on strong legal footing here," he told a group of Democratic donors in California in his first public remarks about the move.
In Washington, Gina McCarthy, Obama's head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told state energy and environmental regulators that the ruling "is not going to slow us down."
The Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered a blow to the plan, the centerpiece of Obama's climate change policy and backbone of his administration's commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions pledged last year in Paris.
Obama said the Supreme Court had in fact required the EPA to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act if they were shown, as scientists had, to be harmful to public health.
He said some people had commented to him in recent days that the Supreme Court's decision had struck down the Clean Power Plan.
"That's not true. So don't despair, people," he said.
McCarthy told state regulators tasked with complying with the rule she is confident the plan will survive the legal challenges and tried to boost morale among the officials.
“I want you to do as I am doing,” McCarthy told the crowd. "Pick myself up, rededicate myself and tell the people in this country that we are there to serve them,” she said, while shaking her fists in the air.
The Supreme Court stay was a “small pause” in what has been a years-long effort of the EPA and states to get the Clean Power Plan off the ground, she said.
The plan was designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 2030 to 32 percent below 2005 levels. The Supreme Court ordered a delay in implementation until legal challenges to the regulation are completed.
"This Supreme Court has said the Environmental Protection Agency is required to regulate carbon emissions if it's a threat to the public health. And we clearly can show that that's the case," Obama said.
Fighting climate change is critical to the president's legacy as he completes his final year in office.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Eric Walsh and Lisa Shumaker)