Trump administration to unveil plan torpedoing US coal plant emissions cuts

Publish date: August 20, 2018

In its most damaging blow to to the environment yet, the Trump administration on Tuesday is expected to roll back major portions of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama era measure intended to stem planet warming carbon dioxide emissions from America’s coal fired power plants.

The Clean Power Plan — once Washington’s central commitment to the Paris Climate accord –– was blocked from taking effect by the US Supreme Court in 2016 as a coalition of coal producing states sued to prevent the rule from taking effect.

It remains suspended, but the Trump Administration proposal would make the suit’s outcome largely irrelevant by handing individual states the right to decide how –– or even whether –– to curb emissions from coal plants themselves.

This plan, expected to be announced Tuesday at a Trump rally in coal-heavy West Virginia, comes at a time of unprecedented wildfires in California, which even US-based commentators are no longer reluctant to say were occasioned by climate change.

The Obama era regulations would have required US states to submit plans for retiring or refitting coal fired plants, and replace them with natural gas or  alternative energy sources. By 2030, these regulations would have dropped US carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent under 2005 levels — the equivalent of taking 75 million cars off the road for good, thus preventing more than 365 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

The Trump administration will reverse that by giving US energy companies an incentive to keep coal plants operating. And instead of dropping carbon dioxide emissions by any significant amounts before 2030, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency projects the new plan will only shave them by about 0.7 to 1.5 percent, according to elements of the plan that were leaked to US media before Tuesday’s expected announcement.

The Trump administration approach would also abandon cuts to smog-producing emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Where the Clean Power Plan would have dampened these emissions by 24 percent and 22 percent, respectively, the Trump plan would cut them by only one or two percent.

The new assault on Obama’s Clean Power Plan – which Trump has long characterized as a regulatory “war on coal” –– follows a separate decision earlier this month to freeze Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that were also aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As such, the White House is seeking to eliminate restrictions in the country’s two most emissions-intensive sectors in less than a month. In terms of overall emissions, the US transport sector accounts for 28.5 of the greenhouse gassed released in the country, followed closely by the power sector, with 28.4 percent.

In recent years, many US utilities have begun to retire coal plants and switch to either natural gas or renewable power, which are more economically competitive. But the proposed Trump rule, which focuses on improving heat efficiency of coal plants would allow for upgrades without triggering the kinds of pollution controls currently required under federal law, could shift that dynamic.

The Trump administration’s new plan, which doesn’t yet have a name, has a 200-page preamble laying out the EPA’s reasoning for the sweeping changes.
The proposed rule, which does not yet have a name, has a 200-page preamble laying out the EPA’s reasoning for the sweeping changes.

Rather than identifying specific reduction targets and tasking state officials with devising plans to achieve them, the Washington Post reported that it would define what constitutes the “best system of emission reduction” that utilities can undertake with technology that has been demonstrated to work. States will conduct a unit-by-unit analysis of plants in their state and will have three years to develop a plan to make their operations more efficient.

The EPA will have one year to determine whether to approve a state’s plan, and if it does not meet the agency’s guidelines, the EPA will have another year to impose a federal plan on the state.
As a result, it is difficult to determine exactly when the new measure will be entirely implemented. While the proposed rule analyzes its effects through 2035, officials said, it may not be fully in compliance until 2037 — well after Trump has left office.

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