Trump plan seeks new emissions technologies to boost coal

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Fulfilling President Trump’s campaign pledge to “end the war on coal,” the White House is scrapping the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) and replacing it with an entirely different approach designed to keep electricity affordable while ensuring continued diversification of the nation’s sources of energy.

The Trump “Affordable Clean Energy” proposal empowers states to develop their own standards of performance for coal-fired power plants, including ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. This would be done in accordance with guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). States will have flexibility to develop a plan that works for their environmental and energy needs while considering the specific circumstances of individual power plants.

{mosads}Sold to the American public as a strategy to combat human-induced climate change, the Obama CPP imposed a nationwide energy policy crafted to drive power companies away from using coal and toward the use of natural gas and renewable energy (primarily wind and solar). The EPA would dictate standards for each state, and it was up to the states to come up with plans to meet the agency’s mandates.   


Initially, Obama wanted Congress, controlled by Democrats in the first two years of his presidency, to enact a far-reaching cap-and-trade scheme. But when that legislation foundered in the Senate, he said there was another way of “skinning the cat.” Turning to the administrative regulatory state, Obama instructed his political appointees at the EPA to draft regulations that would accomplish the same thing.  

The result was the Clean Power Plan, released in 2015. Before long, no fewer than 150 entities — including 27 states, 24 trade associations, 37 rural electric co-ops and three labor unions — challenged the plan in court, arguing that the EPA overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act. And in an unprecedented move, the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2016 blocked implementation of the CPP.

Now Trump is skinning Obama’s cat. Last year, he issued an executive order rescinding the CPP and putting forward his own plan. The EPA estimates the Trump initiative will cover more than 300 coal-fired power plants nationwide, with the goal of providing electric utilities with incentives to keep coal plants operating rather than replacing them with facilities powered by natural gas or renewable energy.

Working with state regulators, the Affordable Clean Energy rule calls for the EPA to develop “candidate technologies” that could be applied to a coal-fired plant to lower emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. From the time the rule is implemented, states would have three years to put together a plan to reduce emissions using one or more of the candidate technologies to achieve what the EPA calls the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER). The EPA would have a year to accept or reject a state’s plan.

Instead of relying on traditional means of cutting emissions, such as scrubbers, the administration is open to innovative technologies that focus on heat-rate efficiency improvements of a given plant. Once such technologies have been tested and evaluated by plant operators and state regulators, they would be included in the state plans submitted to the EPA. This is a far cry from the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of the Obama CPP.

The White House initiative includes a long-overdue overhaul of the EPA’s hopelessly bureaucratic New Source Review permitting program, which has kept plant operators from investing in technologies to improve the environmental performance of their facilities. If these plants are not retrofitted and upgraded with emerging technologies in a timely fashion, they will have to be retired.

Whereas the CPP was a blueprint for the gradual elimination of the coal industry, the Trump initiative seeks to revitalize an energy source that currently supplies about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity. Having diversified sources of power — natural gas, coal, nuclear, oil, hydroelectric and other renewables — has enabled the U.S. economy to avoid the perils of being overly dependent on one source of electricity. The CPP, by pushing utilities to shutter coal-fired power plants, seriously undermined that diversification and threatened the reliability of the grid.

Having withdrawn the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate accord and proclaimed an era of American “global energy dominance,” President Trump continues to be a disruptive force promoting the interests of ordinary Americans. Scuttling Obama’s Clean Power Plan keeps that ball rolling.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior fellow at the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research, where he writes on environmental and energy-related issues. a position he has held since 2002. He previously was a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute and the Washington editor of the Earth Times. He is the author of “The Green Wave: Environmentalism and its Consequences,” published by the Capital Research Center in 2006.

Tags Clean Power Plan Donald Trump Environmental policy in the United States Fossil fuel power station United States Environmental Protection Agency

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