Trump to ease rules on coal plants

Daniel Acker  Bloomberg via Getty Images

Instead of emissions targets or overall reduction goals, the Trump plan takes a power-plant-by-power-plant approach, asking states to review their coal facilities and make tailored changes to improve efficiency.

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.

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

"EPA is not denying that climate change is happening or EPA's obligation to address the harmful health impacts of carbon pollution that's fueling climate change", says Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama.

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".

"To prop up failing coal-fired power plants, the proposal sets paltry pollution limits based on minimal "tune-ups" at those power plants and then authorizes states to weaken the standards even further - or even eliminate them altogether", Lissa Lynch, Staff Attorney for the NRDC, writes.

The plan requires states to come up with their own rules to make coal-fired power plants more efficient.

The administration's Affordable Clean Energy Rule is limited in its scope to coal-fired plants.

President Donald Trump is expected to promote the new plan at an appearance in West Virginia on Tuesday.

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Trump's efforts to save coal have included everything from moving to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change to using national security law to propose intervening in electricity markets to protect coal.

What are the main differences between the Trump administration's proposals and the clean power plan? And, while they could help stabilize the coal industry, the industry's long-term prognosis remains bleak as the country experiences a boom in cheap natural gas and the price of renewable energy continues to fall. The policy could reduce incentives to shift away from coal power to cleaner sources of energy. Earlier in August, they announced plans to scale back fuel efficiency requirements for cars; past year, they pulled out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposal "would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions" while providing "modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans".

In a press release on Tuesday, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule "worse than nothing".

An EPA study of various scenarios forecast that compliance costs relative to the CPP would be slightly lower or higher depending on the assumed cost of making efficiency improvements to the coal-fired plants. Some 40 percent of coal plants in operation in 2010 are now closed or slated for closure, according to estimates from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

A technical analysis released by the EPA suggests that the new plan would decrease carbon dioxide emissions by no more than 2% compared to doing nothing.

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 federal government isn't permitted by the Clean Air Act to trigger sweeping changes to the energy grid in the name of climate change, the administration says.

Trump has vowed to end what Republicans call a "war on coal" waged by Obama.

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