Trump to ease rules on coal plants

Jim Watson  AFP  Getty Images

Jim Watson AFP Getty Images

Announcing the regulation on Tuesday, Bill Wehrum, the EPA's assistant administrator for the office of air and radiation, told journalists that he had worked at the EPA under President George W. Bush when the agency tried to argue that it did not have the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment groups are likely to mount a court fight against the provision that would allow states to opt out.

Critics say the new plan would allow utilities to run older, dirtier power plants more often and extend the plants' overall operating life, undercutting potential environmental benefits.

The EPA's own analysis of the Trump administration proposal also estimated that it will lead to an increase in pollution-related illnesses, like asthma, and a rise in premature deaths.

"To prop up failing coal-fired power plants, the proposal sets paltry pollution limits based on minimal "tune-ups" at those power plants and then authorizes states to weaken the standards even further - or even eliminate them altogether", Lissa Lynch, Staff Attorney for the NRDC, writes.

On Tuesday, the Trump Administration proposed a replacement rule for former president Obama's Clean Power Plan, and its details favor coal power plant owners. "Boom, gone", Donald Trump said about the clean power plan past year.

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The move marks the latest effort by Trump's administration to roll back the environmental legacy of his Democratic predecessor, having pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate accord aimed at slashing global fossil fuel emissions. Today, about a third of USA electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants, down from more than half at the turn of the century.

A worker in the coal industry handles coal at a coal prep plant on May 19, 2017 outside the city of Welch, West Virginia.

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler praised the decision.

Wehrum said that because of the shifting energy landscape, he expected emissions to fall at a rate "roughly comparable" to the goals outlined under the Obama-era plan, which called for a 26 percent cut in greenhouse gases from power plants by 2025, compared to 2005 levels.

He also has directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take steps to bolster struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants to keep them open, warning that impending retirements of "fuel-secure" power plants that rely on coal and nuclear power are harming the nation's power grid and reducing its resilience. The federal government will set carbon emission guidelines, but states will have the leeway to set less-stringent standards, taking into account a facility's age and the cost of upgrades.

Since his days campaigning for president, Trump has promised to revive the failing coal industry-telling miners in West Virginia two years ago to get ready to start "working your asses off"-and ignored the well documented consequences for human health and the planet".

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"The world's on fire and the Trump administration wants to make it worse", said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Supreme Court put the plan on hold in 2016 following a legal challenge by industry and coal-friendly states, an order that remains in effect.

The administration's proposal is called the Affordable Clean Energy rule and, according to the Journal, is created to help revive the coal industry.

That's what happened on Tuesday, with a proposal called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said "would restore the rule of law and empower state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable and affordable energy for all Americans".

"What we see is an ongoing significant shift in the direction of natural gas and renewable energy generation".

Trump has vowed to end what Republicans call a "war on coal" waged by Obama.

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