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How Trump’s EPA is planning to gut clean air regulations to prop up coal

How Trump’s EPA is planning to gut clean air regulations to prop up coal


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Coal Industry Hopes For A Boost As Trump Rolls Back Obama-Era Regulations
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

In an effort to fortify the fossil fuel industry, the Trump administration announced a new energy policy today that would lighten regulation on coal-fired power plants.

Called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, it would replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which the White House called “overly prescriptive and burdensome” in a statement. Had it gone into effect, the Clean Power Plan would have given power plants until the year 2030 to cut their carbon emissions by roughly 30 percent. But the Clean Power Plan was stalled by litigation and never took effect. And pretty much since Trump took office, the administration has been trying to wipe it from the books completely.

The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule proposes to take power plant emissions standards out of federal hands and leave it up to individual states to develop their own plans to cut pollution. It also aims to relax the permitting requirements that are “triggered if a project is predicted to cause a significant net increase in a facility’s actual annual emissions,” according to an EPA fact sheet. That means less regulation for coal plants.

“The fingerprints of the coal industry are all over this plan,” Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healy said in a statement. “The entire proposal deserves to be tossed in a recycling bin, but knowing the EPA’s current leadership, I’m sure they don’t have one.”  

“The entire proposal deserves to be tossed in a recycling bin.”

Environmental experts are also critical of the proposal, which, “if finalized, would not set federal standards for lowering carbon pollution as the law required, but would instead give states the option to do just a little or absolutely nothing to lower carbon pollution,” former EPA head Gina McCarthy said in a teleconference, according to The Washington Post.

Trump’s EPA calls it a “reasonable program focused on potential upgrades to coal plants” that “keeps coal plants open and makes them more efficient.” The EPA also says that the new rule would push “power sector CO2 emissions to around 34% below 2005 levels,” which are similar to reductions the Clean Power Plan shot for.

But reporters at The New York Times reviewed the lengthy technical analysis of the plan, and discovered that those say the opposite: “Implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health.”

That technical analysis predicts that the increased pollution would worsen asthma and increase the number of early deaths each year by 470 to 1,400 people by 2030, the Times says. That sounds bad for most people who need to breathe. But there are groups who would benefit, according to the Post: the power sector, for instance, would save hundreds of millions of dollars each year because of the lower regulatory burden. The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rule once it’s published in the Federal Register.

Updated Tuesday August 21st, 2018 2:06PM ET: Updated with a statement from the Massachusetts attorney general.