Trump's EPA unveils weaker alternative to Obama power plant rule

Muriel Hammond
August 22, 2018

By 2030, carbon dioxide levels would be between 0.7% 1.5% lower than they would have without any regulation in place, according to an EPA analysis. Coal's share of the energy market will grow slightly.

Environmental advocates and the architects of former President Barack Obama's ambitious plan derided the Trump administration's proposed replacement as political pandering and said it represented a USA retreat from the global fight against climate change.

Announcing the regulation on Tuesday, Bill Wehrum, the EPA's assistant administrator for the office of air and radiation, told journalists that he had worked at the EPA under President George W. Bush when the agency tried to argue that it did not have the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. And previous year Trump announced that he would pull the US out of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change. Although efficiency upgrades would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of power, overall carbon emissions could increase if more efficient coal power plants are able to compete on price with natural gas.

During the conference, Wehrum also suggested that the new rule would keep the USA on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the EPA's own documents also state that carbon dioxide emissions are expected to increase.

The EPA previously estimated the Clean Power Plan would have helped avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 child asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed school and work days a year by 2030.

Trump, who is scheduled to hold a rally on Tuesday in West Virginia, a top coal-producing state, has vowed to end what he has called "the war on coal" and boost domestic fossil fuels production.

Pointing to recent extreme weather which experts have tied to the global climate crisis that's resulted from burning fossil fuels, Andrea McGimsey of Environment America said, "At a time when communities across the US are threatened by scorching temperatures, historic wildfires, and air pollution, this move is sheer reckless folly, and it could have profound consequences".

In many states, the CPP's limits on emissions have already been met because the cost of generating power from natural gas and renewable energy like wind and solar is cheaper than coal. The measure set emissions reduction standards on a state-by-state basis and allowed state officials to come up where their own plans to meet the federally defined goal with most states doing so by moving from coal to natural gas. By contrast, the EPA says that the new rule would reduce carbon emissions from the power sector by just 1.5 percent (PDF).

"Once again, this administration is choosing polluters' profits over public health and safety", he said.

The proposed rules are Trump's latest attempt to fulfill campaign promises to revive the coal industry and restore mining jobs. The rule dictated specific emission targets for states and gave officials broad latitude to decide how to achieve reductions. Republican attorneys general and coal industry groups filed lawsuits to block the plan, calling it an overreach of federal power, and in 2016 the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to halt its enforcement.

Of the Obama Administration's many power grabs, none was more audacious than its bid to regulate coal-fired electric power out of business.

"We agree with those policymakers who have become increasingly concerned that coal retirements are a threat to grid resilience and national security", she said.

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