Trump Replacement to Clean Power Plan Drives Suit

WASHINGTON (CN) – A group of 22 states and seven local governments filed suit Tuesday over the Trump administration’s plan to roll back Obama-era emissions standards on coal power plants.

President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks during a July 8, 2019, event on the environment in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Unveiled last August, the Affordable Clean Energy plan became final in June, replacing the more stringent Clean Power Plan put in place by former President Barack Obama.

Rather than shifting to new energy sources, the Trump plan focuses primarily on making existing power plants more efficient. The plan sets guidelines for states to follow when developing their emission-reduction plans, the goals for which states are to set on their own.

The Clean Power Plan relied on states proposing plans to meet emissions-reduction targets, aiming for a 30% cut of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2030. The Supreme Court blocked the plan in 2016. 

Led by the state of New York, the challengers say Trump’s plan fails to meet two core requirements of the Clean Air Act: to reduce the level of greenhouse gasses that power plants put out and use the best methods to reduce emissions.

New York Attorney General Letitia James called Trump’s replacement a “do-nothing rule.”

“The science is indisputable; our climate is changing,” James said in a statement announcing the challenge, which was filed with the D.C. Circuit.

“Without significant course correction, we are careening towards a climate disaster,” she continued. “Rather than staying the course with policies aimed at fixing the problem and protecting people’s health, safety and the environment, the Trump administration repealed the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with this ‘Dirty Power’ rule.”

In addition to New York, the states and cities challenging the rule include California, Maryland, Los Angeles and Miami.

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation on Tuesday, but defended the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

“In regards to ACE, EPA worked diligently to ensure we produced a solid rule, that we believe will be upheld in the courts, unlike the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

At a press conference Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra denounced Trump’s “foolish” and “toothless substitute” for the Clean Power Plan and called the administration’s move to ease restrictions on coal-burning power plants a step backward.

“Devastating wildfires and mudslides, life-threatening drought, sinking water tables, intense heat waves, extreme and unbalanced temperatures, choking smog, California doesn’t have time for flimsy, fake substitutes to clean power,” he said.

He accused Trump of wanting to protect coal “at all costs,” and said it “violates the EPA’s duty under the Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution from power plants.”

The lawsuit follows the California Air Resources Board’s release of its annual report finding California is well below benchmarks for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that states’ challenge to Trump’s Clean Power Plan repeal is about ensuring clean air and water for future generations. “This is not about fighting Donald Trump. This is about our kids and grandkids.”

He added: “How can you look into the eyes of your kids and grandkids and say that anything you are doing is about them? They’re in the short-term business. They’re absolutely neglecting the next generation and shame of them.”

Becerra said it would be too expensive for many states to go back to doing business the old “polluting” way. “We have too many investments,” he said. “The reality is that everyone should catch on. The Clean Power Plan was a good step, but we were already beginning to achieve the markers of the Clean Power Plan and we were ready to go beyond, and many of those states are as well.”

The lawsuit is the second challenging the Trump administration’s rule, following an action by the American Public Health Association and the American Lung Association.

A collection of environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and a handful of local organizations, plans to file a suit on Wednesday challenging the rule.

David Doniger, the council’s senior lawyer on the case, said in an interview that the groups’ claims will be “pretty well aligned” with the state suit, arguing the administration did not justify its decision to gut the Obama-era regulation.

“All administrations can interpret the law, but their interpretation has to make sense, it has to be within the bounds of what’s allowed,” Doniger said.

Jay Pendergrass, the vice president of research and publications at the Environmental Law Institute, said any group challenging the Trump administration rule will likely take aim at the abrupt change in how the EPA interpreted its authority under the Clean Air Act and at the evidence the agency used to support the change in policy.

Courthouse News reporter Maria Dinzeo contributed to this report from California.

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