Published: Wed, August 22, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

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

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

The Trump administration signaled Monday it is intent on removing some Obama-era environmental rules by signing a proposal that would soften regulations on coal-burning power plants.

EPA's 236-page proposal is open for a public comment period, with a final rule expected later this year.

The report includes tables showing that, by the EPA's own analysis, the most likely outcome of the new rule would result in 470 to 1,400 additional premature deaths annually by 2030.

President Trump's plan broadly increases the leeway given states to decide how and how much to regulate coal power plants.

Details of the plan are being released Tuesday morning, and President Donald Trump is expected to promote the new policy during a trip Tuesday evening to Charleston, West Virginia. As it stands, Obama's Clean Power Plan never went into effect; amid legal challenges from opponents who said it overstepped the EPA's authority under federal law, the U.S. Supreme Court put the initiative on hold in February 2016.

"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.

Electric utilities have been steadily retiring coal plants for economic reasons despite the stay of the Clean Power Plan, as the cost of renewables and natural gas drop.

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"A coal plant that operates more efficiently may be called upon to run more hours, increasing the total amount of Carbon dioxide emitted overall", Lissa Lynch, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said, "EPA has an important role when it comes to addressing the Carbon dioxide from our nation's power plants". Trump's acting replacement for Pruitt, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist.

"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.

An EPA study 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.

"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 EPA's own scientific analysis of its new rule reportedly admits that the Affordable Clean Energy Rule could lead to almost 1,400 extra deaths per year compared to what would have occurred under the Clean Power Plan.

Trump has vowed to end what Republicans call a "war on coal" waged by Obama. Today, about a third of USA electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants, down from more than half at the turn of the century.

"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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