Legal & Regulatory

States Would Set Rules Under Trump Emissions Plan

A report from POLITICO says the Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) would give individual states more leeway to set their own rules governing emissions from power plants.

POLITICO, which covers politics and policy both in the U.S. and internationally, said its review of a draft document, and information from a source who has read other parts of the draft, shows the administration would offer regulations that “would do far less to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet.”

POLITICO’s report released on August 14 says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acknowledged that carbon emissions and other pollutants from power plants would be higher under the new proposal.

The Clean Power Plan was designed as a way to move the U.S. away from coal-fired power generation and toward less-polluting sources such as wind, solar, and natural gas, as it sought to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. It was proposed by Obama’s EPA in June 2014, with a final version of the plan published in the Federal Register in October 2015.

Challenges to the CPP

The plan was immediately challenged by several lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and within days of being published 27 states—mostly those dependent on coal-fired power and the coal industry—petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for an emergency stay.

Detractors argued the costs of the CPP would outweigh its benefits. Jordan McGillis, a policy analyst for the Institute for Energy Research in Washington, D.C., in a commentary in POWER magazine in December 2017 said the CPP would increase electricity costs for U.S. consumers and would have “a negligible effect on global warming.”

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay against the rule in February 2016, ordering the rule not be implemented until the merits of the case against it were decided. A decision in the case has not been reached and the CPP has never taken effect.

Trump has been a vocal opponent of the CPP. Scott Pruitt, his EPA administrator who stepped down earlier this year amid investigations into alleged ethics violations, sued the agency over the rule during his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general. The president during his campaign said he would rescind the rule and also pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, which he has done.

Janet McCabe, a senior law fellow with the Environmental Law & Policy Center who oversaw air regulations for Obama’s EPA, told POLITICO that Trump’s proposal would be “another, more official, sign that the government of the United States is not committed to climate policy.” McCabe said based on her knowledge of the proposal, it would offer “a significant amount of discretion to states to decide that nothing at all needs to be done.”

The draft proposal was sent to the president last month. The EPA at that time said it would seek public comment on a new rule only after the White House completed its review.

Replacement Plan

Trump’s EPA last year said the CPP overstepped federal law by setting emissions standards that power plants could not reasonably meet. In December, the agency said it would write a replacement plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, likely a plan far less stringent than the CPP.

POLITICO said its review of the new proposal, which is expected to be released publicly soon, would give states authority to establish their own rules for coal plants or even opt out of federal regulations. POLITICO said the White House Office of Management and Budget has finished reviewing the draft and has sent it back to the EPA.

According to POLITICO, “the rule would allow states to write rules to make coal plants more efficient, enabling them to burn less coal to produce the same amount of electricity. But that could be bad for the planet, people familiar with state air programs say, by making it cost-effective for power companies to run those plants more often.” The news group said the EPA studied several possible scenarios from state-proposed plans, with the thinking that plans could be in place prior to 2025.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that U.S. energy-related CO2emissions declined by 14%, or 861 million metric tons, from 2005 to 2017, with much of the reduction due to the closure of dozens of older coal-fired plants.

POLITICO said that according to its review of the draft proposal, the EPA with its new plan will charge the CPP illegally sought to regulate the broader power sector beyond coal plants, and that the costs for compliance costs would have far outweighed any climate benefits.

The news group said states will be able to give reasons for not regulating coal plants, including balancing the cost of regulation against the timeline for when a plant would likely be shut down. It said in another part of the proposal, the EPA would allow states to decide “whether they want to adopt changes to pollution reviews that kick in when a plant makes upgrades.” Rules currently exist that are designed to prevent plants from making operational changes that would result in higher emissions levels. That process, called New Source Review, has been challenged by industry groups who say it makes efficiency improvements for power plants too costly.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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