White House Scales Back Obama Coal Emissions Standards

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it is scaling back Obama-era constraints on coal-fired power plants, to “empower states, promote energy independence, and facilitate economic growth and job creation.”

According to a statement from acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the plan will “replaced the prior administration’s overly prescriptive and burdensome Clean Power Plan,” one of President Obama’s signature pieces of legislation aimed at addressing climate change.

“The [new rule] would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans,”Wheeler said. “Today’s proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance.”

The move drew a sharp rebuke from California Governor Jerry Brown, who called the Trump Administration’s decision “a declaration of war against America and all of humanity.”

“It will not stand. Truth and common sense will triumph over Trump’s insanity,” Brown said.

In the meantime, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his state is joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance to “continue to fight against dirty fossil fuels.”

“New York will not let President Trump take us backward,” Cuomo said.

The Trump administration claims the new rule will offer a “‘best system of emission reduction’ for existing power plants as on-site, heat-rate efficiency improvements” as well as a new permitting program for existing plants to “further encourage efficiency improvements.”

“EPA has an important role when it comes to addressing the CO2 from our nation’s power plants,” said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “The … rule would fulfill this role in a manner consistent with the structure of the Clean Air Act while being equally respectful of its bounds.”

President Donald Trump started the process of rolling back the Clean Air Plan back in October 2017 when then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposal laying the groundwork for today’s announcement.

Criticism of the rule from environmental advocates came fast.

“The proposal is an attempt to prop up dying coal power plants at the cost of killing more Americans and condemning our children and grandchildren to a world ravaged by climate change,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the National Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean energy program, during a conference call with reporters.

Doniger dismissed the new rule as a “dirty power scam” and linked it to an earlier move by EPA to weaken Obama-era car emissions standards made earlier this month.

“Together with the rollback of clean car standards, it signals the Trump administration is just fine with runaway climate change,” he said.

Virginia-based Dominion Energy, which operates several coal-fired power plants, said Tuesday that despite the change of policy in Washington, it will continue a longstanding shift to tapping renewable sources for energy.

In a statement the utility said it is “committed to greener and cleaner energy,” and Dominion spokesperson Dan Genest said the company plans to invest in renewable sources like solar and wind to reduce the company’s pollution generation from their existing coal plants.

“We expect Virginia to adopt its own carbon plan, and don’t foresee [the new rule] affecting that,” he said. “We intend to fully comply with whatever Virginia adopts. “

The Clean Power Plan was unveiled by the EPA in June 2014, but didn’t actually go into effect until October 2015.

Rolled out as “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units,” the plan required states to create individual plans for reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

States had until September 2016 to submit plans or file for an extension through September 2018. If no plan was submitted to EPA, the Obama administration gave the agency carte blanche to create new regulations for the recalcitrant state.

The administration also suggested specific steps states could take to reduce carbon emissions from their power plants. These included increasing power generation efficiency at existing fossil fuel-fired plants; converting coal plants to burn natural gas; or creating zero carbon emitting sources to replace old existing units.

According to the Obama administration, the plan would dramatically curb environmental damage attributed to the burning of fossil fuels, and come with a multitude of health benefits tied to the reduction of soot and smog in the atmosphere.

The Obama White House also hoped to grow renewable energy sources by 30 percent by 2030.

But the plan faced a number of legal and other hurdles, including a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2016.

That case is currently before the D.C. Circuit. In the meantime, many states — including some with Republican leadership — have moved forward with crafting or actually proposing compliant plans.

According to the New York Times, at least 20 states were taking steps toward compliance when President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

“Obviously we’re suing and going to fight,” said Wyoming Governor Matt Mead in an article published by the Times in the summer of 2016. The former United States attorney told the newspaper he disagreed with the plan, but his court experience lead him to “prepare not to win.”

Tuesday’s announcement from the EPA is just one of several procedural steps that must take place before the new rule becomes law. And activists like Doniger have promised, if and when the rule passes, his group will take EPA to court to show the measure violates the law.

“The states have an option to do nothing,” he said. “But in that case EPA is responsible to regulate power plants  to meet that federal target.”

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