Trump EPA Guts Obama Rule on Coal-Fired Power Plants

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyoming. (AP file photo/J. David Ake)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Extending the life of coal-fired power plants, the Trump administration pulled the plug Wednesday on a landmark effort from the Obama era to move away from climate-damaging pollution.

Though the bill known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule touts a goal of reducing emissions, it leaves the specifics of regulating power plants in the hands of states.

New York and environmental groups wasted little time in vowing to challenge the rule change in court, with state Attorney General Letitia James tweeting this morning that the “#DirtyPower rule” will have devastating ramifications for all Americans.

At an event today where he signed the rule into law, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler noted that President Donald Trump had used one of his first executive orders to demand that the EPA make changes that support lower- and middle-income Americans as well as the “competitiveness of American businesses.”

“ACE gives states the regulatory certainty they need to continue to reduce emissions and provide reliable and affordable energy for all Americans,” Wheeler said. “EPA sets the best system of emission reductions, then states set standards of performance.”

Recalling the numerous court challenges that held up the stringent rules instituted by former President Barack Obama, Wheeler stressed that his new rule would better adhere to the Clean Air Act.

“This is how the clean air process should work,” he said.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, left, shakes hands with EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday after Wheeler signed the Affordable Clean Energy Rule at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. Wheeler signed a repeal of one of the Obama era’s two biggest climate change initiatives, the Clean Power Plan, and adopted an alternative plan that would loosen regulations on the plants. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Details on the plan include providing states with a list of “candidate technologies” to help establish performance standards that align with already-in-progress state plans. The EPA says it will also update the New Source Review Permitting program to “incentivize efficiency improvements at existing power plants.” 

Passage of the rule change today follows the release earlier this month of a report that said carbon-dioxide emissions went up 1% between 2017 and 2018, after having been in decline every year since 2014.

Backed by U.S. energy producers, banks and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the study tracked emissions data from the country’s 100 largest electric power producers.

The Sierra Club quoted Ohio-based Neil Waggoner with the Beyond Coal Campaign on Wednesday as noting that coal power plants “have proven consistent economic losers for Ohio electric customers who have paid and are projected to pay hundreds of millions.”

Waggoner pointed at efforts by Columbus-based American Electric Power – one of the nation’s largest energy producers — to shut down coal plants and move toward natural gas, wind and solar.

Last month, AEP President Nick Atkins said the company slashed its CO2 emissions 59% relative to 2000 figures, and hopes to hit 80% reduction by 2050.

“Like most other utilities that include renewable energy options in their research, AEP found investing in renewable energy is the best option for their business, customers’ pocketbook, and everyone’s health and environment,” Waggoner said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelos also lashed out at today’s announcement.

“As rising temperatures, surging seas and record-breaking natural disasters ravage communities everywhere, the Trump administration continues to ignore science and put the interests of polluters ahead of the American people, by rolling back countless life-saving environmental protections,” the speaker said in a statement. “The American people are demanding an end to the administration’s corruption and denial of the facts, but the White House refuses to relent in its special interest giveaways.”

At a campaign rally in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday, President Donald Trump credited unnamed efforts by his administration as having made America’s water and air “crystal clear.”

“We are creating a future of American energy independence and yet our air and water are the cleanest they’ve ever been by far,” he said.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney made a similar boast Wednesday, saying that the U.S. is meeting emissions goals despite leaving the Paris climate agreement.

In fact, the United States is legally barred from beginning the one-year process of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement until Nov. 4, 2019.

A market-research firm called the Rhodium Group determined last summer that, relative to record-high levels in 2005, U.S. emissions are on track for a 17% drop by 2025, far short of Paris agreement goal of 28%.

E & E News quoted coal lobbyist Michelle Bloodworth on Wednesday as saying that the Trump administration’s plan offers “flexibility that states have to set reasonable performance standards should help” keeping coal plants from retiring early.

The rollback will take effect shortly after its publication in the Federal Register.

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