President Donald Trump is scaling back sweeping Obama-era curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants burning coal, his biggest step yet to fulfill his campaign promises to stop a “war” on the fossil fuel.
Yet the Environmental Protection Agency’s rewrite of the Clean Power Plan — which is being unveiled Wednesday — will do little to halt a nationwide shift away from that fossil fuel and toward cheaper electricity generated by the wind, the sun and natural gas.
The U.S. is experiencing “a wave of coal retirements — and we don’t think we’re near the end of it,” said Nicholas Steckler, head of U.S. power for BloombergNEF. “Coal is inferior to natural gas in many ways today — it’s less flexible, it’s higher cost, even its fuel is generally more expensive, and, of course, it’s dirty. It has so many reasons stacked against it.”
The EPA’s final “Affordable Clean Energy” rule is designed to pare carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging efficiency upgrades at individual power plants. Like an earlier proposal released in October, the final rule will empower states to develop performance standards for plants based on assumptions about the kind of improvements that can be eked out by plugging duct leaks, installing advanced soot blowers and making other upgrades at the sites.
EPA says more Americans will die under its power-plant rollback
Where the new plan focuses on what can be achieved at individual coal plants, the Clean Power Plan it is replacing aimed to drive broader changes in the U.S. electric mix and threatened to spur a wave of coal plant closures. That measure — one of former President Barack Obama’s signature initiatives to combat climate change — compelled states to make systemwide changes in the name of cutting emissions, from bolstering energy efficiency and adding renewables to shutting coal-fired plants altogether.
Industry advocates say the Trump administration is curbing federal government overreach and leveling the playing field.
“It won’t necessarily be the saving grace for coal,” but “this regulation gives coal a fighting chance,” said Nick Loris, an economist with the Heritage Foundation. The EPA is following the rule of law and removing “government-imposed barriers that will lead to increased innovation, competition and efficiency that will ultimately drive down pollution.”
The EPA’s new approach is rooted in Clean Power Plan foes’ arguments that the agency does not have legal authority to regulate emissions beyond the boundaries of existing plants. In some cases, efficiency gains spurred by the new rule could encourage utilities to run their coal power plants more often, undercutting potential environmental benefits…Full Story