The Trump administration is expected on Tuesday to roll out its alternative to a capstone Obama-era coal pollution rule, which critics fear will significantly weaken efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The new rule would give coal-burning plants and states more leeway in determining pollution controls. In some instances, coal plants wouldn’t even need to meet the forthcoming standards.
President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE has promised since the campaign trail to roll back the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The drafts leaked last week offered the first glimpse of his plan to revise President Obama’s ambitious climate regulation that, coupled with the Paris Climate Accord, was meant to make the U.S. a global leader in the fight against carbon emissions. Trump announced in June 2017 that he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.
Here are five things to know about the anticipated new rule and its potential effects on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump is expected to announce his plan in coal country
Trump is likely to announce details about his plan during a visit on Tuesday to Charleston, W. Va., according to The Washington Post.
West Virginia is the second-biggest coal producing state, and its residents have seen the negative effects of the country’s transition to cheaper natural gas and renewable energy. Several plants have shuttered in recent years as coal became less financially viable.
Trump promised to help out major coal communities, and since taking office he has frequently denounced what he deems a “war on coal.”
At a fundraiser last week, Trump called coal “indestructible,” echoing a common Republican talking point that it’s the most secure energy source since pipelines and electric grids can be compromised by terrorists or hackers.
“You can blow up a pipeline, you can blow up the windmills. You know, the windmills, boom, boom, boom, bing, that’s the end of that one,” Trump said. “Who wants to have energy when you need subsidy? So, uh, the coal is doing great.”
The administration has already taken other steps toward supporting the coal industry. Trump ordered Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature Trump tries to spin failed Texas endorsement: 'This was a win' MORE in June to take "immediate steps" to prevent the further closures of coal and nuclear power plants around the U.S. The draft plan ordered grid operators to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants that are at risk of closing due to cheaper energy available from renewable energy sources and natural gas.
Coal companies could stay in business longer
Experts say the administration’s overhaul of climate change regulations could help coal plants stay in operation longer because they’ll be able to continue to function without having to mitigate their pollution controls.
A main component of the plan would reportedly limit a program set up under the 2015 CPP that mandates coal power plants come into compliance with modern pollution controls. Often, plants are retired to avoid the costly modern standards. Industry leaders say those upgrade costs contribute to coal being financially unviable.
"Keeping power plants going can be good too, but doesn’t mean you keep them going at levels of pollution that we now know how to control," said Janet McCabe, the former head of EPA's air office under Obama, said Monday on a call with reporters. "To keep them going you have to have modern pollution controls. The Trump proposal would give them another significant lease on life."
In contrast, the Obama-era CPP aimed to shift the U.S. toward renewable energy and natural gas and away from coal, which scientists say is a leading contributor to carbon emissions. Under the 2015 plan, the Obama administration hoped to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. Achieving that goal is considered unlikely under the forthcoming regulations.
States would get more control
Under Trump’s proposal, states would have more power in determining how stringently to regulate their power plant emissions.
Instead of making states hit firm benchmarks, the new rule would reportedly ask states to use guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when submitting their plans for review.
States also could ease the review process that currently mandates older coal plants invest in renovations to ensure they comply with modern pollution controls, according to the Washington Post.
Additionally, states also could ask the EPA to waive regulations entirely for coal plants expected to close in the near future.
Climate change is de-emphasized
In leaked drafts of the proposal, the words climate change are nearly absent, appearing on only one page out of almost 300, according The New York Times.
By submitting the plan, the administration is essentially acknowledging the threat of climate change to human health, reiterating a 2009 EPA decision. However, critics fear that the new rule will not be effective at cutting carbon emissions, one of the main contributors to climate change.
“Instead they are giving states the option to do just a little or absolutely nothing to stem carbon pollution,” said former EPA administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden administration breaks down climate finance roadmap Obama to attend Glasgow climate summit White House puts together climate finance strategy MORE of the leaked proposal, on a call with reporters Monday. “It creates a big loophole. It’s a big give me to coal fire plants.”
The proposal is projected to release at least 12 times more carbon dioxide into the air than the Obama rule over the next decade, according to the Post, which means pollutants such as soot and smog would be higher.
Carbon emissions have been on the decline in recent years.
Courts will likely have the final say
While Obama’s CPP was the first federal carbon-pollution restriction imposed on U.S. power plants, its implementation was anything but smooth. In fact the rule was never fully implemented.
The Supreme Court in 2016 put a temporary hold on implementation of the regulation while it considered various arguments following a lawsuit from coal states. It remains suspended to this day.
Trump’s EPA argues that the the CPP illegally sought to regulate the power sector at large — not just carbon pollution—and that compliance costs for the coal industry would be overbearing and have negligible effects on climate change, according to Politico.
The new rule is likely to receive immediate pushback from environmentalists who say the EPA under Trump is neglecting its statutory obligations to regulate pollutants such as carbon under the Clean Air Act. That pushback is expected to take the form of lawsuits and litigation.