Trump announces plans to gut another climate-change initiative

Clark Diaz
August 22, 2018

The administration of US President Donald Trump has proposed new rules that would scale back limits on coal-fired power plants, a move critics said would have dire environmental and health consequences.

Trump has already vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement as he pushes to revive the coal industry. "It would mean more climate-changing pollution from power plants".

Bill Wehrum, administrator for EPA's office of Air and Radiation, acknowledged that the industry "continues to transform in front of our eyes", he told reporters.

The Journal reported that acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a proposal that calls for states to regulate emissions from power plants, undoing a move from President Barack Obama that made those emissions regulated by the federal government for the first time.

"I am ready to take every action necessary to halt the adoption of this risky and woefully insufficient replacement of the Clean Power Plan", said Virginia AG Mark Herring.

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"As compared to the standards of performance that it replaces... implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health", the EPA said in its analysis.

The transforming energy market - cheap, abundant natural gas is displacing more carbon-heavy coal - is helping keep a lid on emissions, but the new Trump administration plan does not provide any meaningful cuts and could even make the situation worse by propping up old coal plants.

"The announcement of a replacement rule may largely represent a political milestone for a president who promised to end his predecessor's 'war on coal, ' but we also view it as a significant policy action that could to make it hard for a differently oriented successor to establish greenhouse gas limits on any stationary sector via executive discretion", ClearView Energy Partners managing director Kevin Book said in a research note to clients.

The EPA under the Trump administration argues its previous work is costly and unlawful, a position held by a coalition of states that sued the agency to stop the clean power plan.

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming.

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Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen-whose group is defending the Obama plan against lawsuits brought by fossil fuel interests and allied states-outlined the two key ways that Trump's "misguided proposal would wreak havoc on communities".

But that still might not be enough to dramatically alter the landscape for USA coal, which is losing US customers as utilities increasingly turn to natural gas and renewable power to generate electricity.

The Environmental Protection Agency called the regulations on coal power plants "overly prescriptive and burdensome" in the proposal to roll-back the former president's climate-change initiative.

Trump's proposal for modest efficiency improvements at power plants falls far short of what's needed to combat climate change, environmentalists said. The EPA says should all states adopt these new efficiencies - it's unlikely all will - emissions will go down by around 1% by 2030.

Trump is taking action on a promise to revive the coal industry, which is still big in West Virginia, and ease regulations on energy producers.

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The EPA said it "empowers states, promotes energy independence, and facilitates economic growth and job creation". "This revised approach will help continue the trend of lower electric power sector emissions while preserving America's energy edge and respecting environmental law". "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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