EPA unveils weaker alternative to Obama power plant rule

Jan Cross
August 22, 2018

Trump will join supporters in Charleston, West Virginia, for a political rally on Tuesday to celebrate his administration's proposal to allow states to set their own emissions standards for coal-fueled power plants.

Since his days campaigning for president, Trump has promised to revive the failing coal industry-telling miners in West Virginia two years ago to get ready to start "working your asses off"-and ignored the well documented consequences for human health and the planet".

Obama's Clean Power Plan would have reduced carbon emissions dramatically, as much as 19 percent from projected levels by 2030.

A worker in the coal industry handles coal at a coal prep plant on May 19, 2017 outside the city of Welch, West Virginia.

The move marks the latest effort by Trump's administration to roll back the environmental legacy of his Democratic predecessor, having pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate accord aimed at slashing global fossil fuel emissions. The AP obtained a copy of the summary, which asserts that the Obama-era plan exceeds the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act.

"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", acting administrator of the EPA Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

What are the main differences between the Trump administration's proposals and the clean power plan?

Obama's plan was created to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

EPA's 236-page proposal is open for a public comment period, with a final rule expected later this year.

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"A coal plant that operates more efficiently may be called upon to run more hours, increasing the total amount of Carbon dioxide emitted overall", Lissa Lynch, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. Several states, including California, are already meeting the targets the Obama administration laid out in the Clean Power Plan, even though that plan was never implemented.

Coal fired power plants have always been a staple of the USA power grid, but are declining due to competition from natural gas, which is cheaper, and wind and solar power, which are far more agreeable to the environment and human health.

The Sierra Club's senior campaign representative in Pennsylvania, Patrick Grenter, released a statement saying, "The proposed rollback of life-saving clean air and climate safeguards is unacceptable and exposes Wheeler's EPA as a puppet of the very coal executives who used to sign his paychecks and want to pollute with impunity".

Despite Trump's support for coal plants, they continue to shut down. States have three years to evaluate their power plants and submit proposals for compliance, after which the EPA has another year to review - all before any implementation begins.

"What we see is an ongoing significant shift in the direction of natural gas and renewable energy generation".

What does this mean for climate change? By contrast, the EPA says that the new rule would reduce carbon emissions from the power sector by just 1.5 percent (PDF).

"We're the only country in the world doing this, looking at coal as the future instead of understanding the future is about clean air, the future is about clean energy", Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator under Obama, said on CNN. The EPA says it 'empowers states, promotes energy independence, and facilitates economic growth and job creation'.

Trump has vowed to end what Republicans call a "war on coal" waged by Obama. "The Clean Power Plan would have resulted in stranded assets and stranded debt, significantly increasing electricity costs for many consumers", Matheson said by email.

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