Trump administration proposes to scrap Obama-era Clean Power Plan

The Trump administration on Monday continued its battering of Obama-era environmental regulations by proposing a new rule that would replace the Clean Power Plan, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The new plan would allow states to enforce their own guidelines.

Environmental groups, which noted that the EPA’s own proposal shows the plan could cost more than 1,000 lives annually due to increased air pollutants, were already lining up to challenge the new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. The rule was proposed Monday under acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist. It would give states big leeway on how to restrict carbon dioxide gas and other greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change.  President Trump is expected to promote the new plan at an appearance Tuesday in West Virginia.

The new proposal comes on the heels of an EPA proposal earlier this month to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, also an Obama-era initiative.  Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has already said the state would join others, including California, to legally challenge that proposal.

The ACE rule would affect Pennsylvania, but it’s not clear how much. Pennsylvania ranks third in coal production behind Wyoming and West Virginia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state already sets its own limits on some emissions.  About 20 coal-fired plants produced about 30 percent of the state’s energy in 2017, according to the most recent data available.

The state Department of Environmental Protection said it was still reviewing the proposal, but said the Wolf administration is “disappointed” and that it supported the Clean Power Plan as “a responsible, cost-effective means of addressing global climate change.”

Though the rule would appear to have less impact on New Jersey because it has a dearth of coal-fired plants, Gov. Murphy lashed out at the proposal.

“Reversing efforts to combat climate change and increasing carbon emissions nationwide is not only a shameful move by the Trump administration, but one that puts lives at risk and drastically harms human health,” Murphy said.

The Clean Power Plan was designed to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Republicans cited the plan as an example of federal “overreach.” Though it was never enacted after Supreme Court legal challenges by the coal industry, coal-friendly states and labor unions, the Clean Power Plan was still a factor for companies weighing to close coal-fired plants. But an even bigger factor has been the switch to natural gas — another key industry for Pennsylvania, which is the second-largest producer in the nation.

The Trump administration says the new rule would set emission guidelines for states to use when developing their own greenhouse gas emission plans. The rule “empowers states, promotes energy independence, and facilitates economic growth and job creation,” the EPA says.

“The ACE 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 in a statement. “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.”

However, the EPA did maintain that it still plays a major role in addressing carbon emissions. The new rule would define a “best system of emission reduction” for existing power plants, provide states with a list of  “candidate technologies” to establish standards, updates permitting to encourage efficiency and gives states adequate time to develop their plans.

A federal court has upheld that the EPA is legally obligated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA says its new rule would not only save companies money by reducing regulation but also reduce carbon dioxide emissions from their current levels and meet its legal obligation — ultimately the equivalent of taking 5.3 million cars off the road. The EPA did not say how much time it would give states to comply, but said the plan, when fully implemented, will actually reduce U.S. power sector carbon emissions more than the Clean Power Plan.

The public has 60 days to comment on the plan and the EPA will hold a public hearing.

The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a trade group representing utilities, praised the new proposal and called the Clean Power Plan “complex and unnecessarily burdensome overreach.”  It also welcomed giving states “a significant role in managing the reliability and environmental performance of their power sectors.

But environmental groups were quick to condemn the proposal and disputed the EPA’s assertions.

The Environmental Defense Fund called the proposal a “sham” that would increase pollution through a much-weakened rule and took issue with its calculations.

“As America suffers through a summer of record-breaking wildfires and heat waves, acting administrator Wheeler responds with this do-nothing plan leaving American families unprotected from dangerous climate pollution,” said Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp.

Krupp maintains that the rule would eliminate “life-saving climate and health benefits” spelled out under the Clean Power Plan. The proposed new rule “contains no quantitative limits or compliance deadlines at all,” Krupp said.

Further, Krupp said the new standards amounted to efficiency “tweaks” at power plants and that the EPA’s own analysis indicates more than a thousand lives could be lost annually through pollution compared to the Clean Power Plan. He also said power plants could reduce carbon emissions by 68 percent by 2030 with the right incentives, far exceeding the legally mandated goal.

The Sierra Club called the proposal “an unlawfully weak carbon pollution policy” designed to gut the Clean Power Plan’s lifesaving standards while failing to fight climate change.

It said the Clean Power Plan, if enacted, would have prevented 90,000 asthma attacks annually and avoided 3,200 premature deaths per year while driving the solar and wind industries.

“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,” said Patrick Grenter, a senior Pennsylvania representative to the Sierra Club.