Energy & Environment

Court strikes down Trump coal power plant rule


A court has struck down the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era rule regarding pollution from coal-fired power plants. 

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday vacated the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which gave states more time and authority to decide how to implement the best new technology to ease emissions from coal plants.

It ruled that the “promulgation of the ACE rule and its embedded repeal of the Clean Power Plan rested critically on a mistaken reading of the Clean Air Act.” 

The Clean Power Plan was an Obama administration rule that was stayed by a 2016 court decision. 

Tuesday’s ruling gives President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration an opportunity to carry out its own rulemaking without having to undo the Trump administration’s rule. 

The court additionally vacated amendments that extended the timeline under which companies had to come into compliance with the rule. 

When the ACE rule was issued in 2019, it received pushback from environmentalists who took issue with the fact that it did not set emissions caps and said that it would exacerbate climate change.

Those groups hailed Tuesday’s ruling as a climate win.

“The EPA’s role is to protect the American people from dangerous pollution and act on the greatest threat to our country: the climate crisis,” said Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club, in a statement.

“The Dirty Power Plan didn’t do either of these things and the court rightly vacated it,” Spalding added.

The EPA and its backers, however, argued that the Obama rule was too far-reaching and that their repeal of it was necessary.

“Unlike the Clean Power Plan, ACE adheres to the Clean Air Act and gives states the regulatory certainty they need to continue to reduce emissions and provide a dependable, diverse supply of electricity that all Americans can afford,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement when the rule was finalized.

The court disagreed with the Trump administration’s determination about its predecessor’s plan.

“The ACE Rule expressly rests on the incorrect conclusion that the plain statutory text clearly foreclosed the Clean Power Plan, so that complete repeal was ‘the only permissible interpretation,’” the decision stated, adding that the agency “fundamentally ‘has misconceived the law,’ such that its conclusion ‘may not stand.’ ”

EPA spokesperson Molly Block said in an email that the agency is “disappointed that the panel majority rejected EPA’s well-supported repeal of the Clean Power Plan and its regulation of [greenhouse gases] from coal-fired power plants.”

“The decision risks injecting more uncertainty at a time when the nation needs regulatory stability,” Block said. “EPA is reviewing the decision and will explore all available litigation options.”

When it was promulgating the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration estimated that it would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 415 million tons by 2030 when compared to taking no action.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, estimated that the ACE rule would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 11 million tons by 2030 when compared to doing nothing.

— Updated at 11:59 a.m.

Tags Andrew Wheeler Clean Air Act Clean Power Plan Coal Joe Biden Pollution
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