The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday is expected to formally announce its replacement for the Clean Power Plan, a signature policy designed to fight climate change that was supported by President Barack Obama.
The new plan will include measures aimed at making it easier for electricity produced from coal to compete with natural gas and renewable sources, such as eliminating rules that would require coal plants to install pollution-reducing technology, according to The Wall Street Journal, which received an advance copy of the plan.
EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the Journal the Clean Power Plan under Obama “was centered around doing away with coal.”
The Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan, called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, is not expected to include ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which the CPP sought to do. Instead, more states likely will be given additional flexibility to set their own goals on how to limit the release of carbon dioxide and other materials that contribute to global warming.
Trump and administration officials have said that under Obama the EPA acted outside its legal authority and that regulations under the plan would have been too restrictive and expensive for companies that produce power from coal.
The requirements under the original Clean Power Plan plan never were enforced because the Supreme Court stayed the rules after legal challenges. The Trump administration’s proposal is likely to face lawsuits that also could delay it from being enacted.
The Clean Power Plan was at the center of Obama’s efforts to slow the effects of global warming. When it was announced, Obama called it “the biggest, most important step” the country has taken to combat climate change.
Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the plan was not the “be all, end all” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but that it was meant to start the country on a trajectory to meet its goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels.
A more coal-friendly policy would be “making us the only country in the world that is divesting itself of climate actions that make sense from every perspective,” she told reporters. “In trying to now be the king of coal, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Environmental advocates have slammed the Trump administration for rolling back policies intended to combat climate change and reduce air pollution.
The Obama administration’s analysis found that reducing air pollution from power plants through the Clean Power Plan could prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of asthma attacks every year.
Lynsday Moseley Alexander, director of the healthy air campaign for the American Lung Association, said any proposed rule that doesn’t reduce pollution would fall short.
“We’ve already lost time in the fight against climate change from when the Clean Power Plan was adopted, so we need any replacement for the Clean Power Plan to do more, not less, and achieve the maximum health benefits possible by reducing carbon emissions,” Moseley Alexander told ABC News.
Joe Goffman, former senior counsel in the EPA’s air office, said grounds for a legal challenge to the new proposal could include that EPA has manipulated data to support rolling back or repealing the Clean Power Plan.
In one example, Goffman said, the EPA under Obama considered money customers would saved from lower utility bills as a benefit, but the Trump administration considered the lost income for utility companies an argument against the rule.
“Both in its legal interpretation and its approach to cost-benefit analysis, the EPA committed what scientists and regulators consider the cardinal sin of taking a results-oriented approach and then fashioning in an ad-hoc way the methodologies it relies on to produce those results,” Goffman told reporters.
Even if the real-world impacts are indefinitely stalled, former EPA officials said the decision to walk back the rule sends a message to the rest of the world that the U.S. is sticking with coal and taking itself out of conversations about new technology and improving air quality.
Members of the public can comment on the proposal for the next two months.