EPA proposes relaxing coal plant emissions rule

Daniel Acker  Bloomberg via Getty Images

"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.

EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency's plan will provide more clarity when it comes to regulations.

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. His plan restricted greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Environmental groups were quick to criticize the move.

The Natural Resources Defense Council called the replacement proposal Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan'.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein bashed it as "the latest in a string of bad decisions that undermine our fight against global warming, lower our quality of life and endanger lives" in a statement. "This is all about coal at all costs".

"Once again, this administration is choosing polluters" profits over public health and safety, ' he said. Although the Trump administration forecasts a 4.5 percent to 5.8 percent increase in the production of coal for generating electricity under its proposal, analysts say the shift is unlikely to reverse a spate of already announced closures of coal-fired power plants.

"We're the only country in the world doing this, looking at coal as the future instead of understanding the future is about clean air, the future is about clean energy", Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator under Obama, said on CNN.

The EPA estimates its proposal could pare carbon dioxide emissions as much as 1.5 percent from projected levels without the Obama plan in place.

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President Donald Trump is expected to promote the new plan at an appearance in West Virginia on Tuesday.

He said in a morning tweet: 'Big Rally tonight in West Virginia. See you later. CLEAN COAL!'

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.

Obama's plan was created to cut US carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Supreme Court put the brakes on it in 2016 after energy-producing states sued the EPA, saying it had exceeded its legal reach. The new rule would allow coal power plant owners to make efficiency upgrades without triggering any additional costly repairs, as the previous administration hoped to do. "This revised approach will help continue the trend of lower electric power sector emissions while preserving America's energy edge and respecting environmental law".

The Trump administration has proposed a major rollback in Obama-era restrictions on climate-changing emissions from coal-fired power plants. 'This is all about coal at all costs'.

Since 2010, power plant owners have either retired or announced plans to retire 630 coal-fired facilities in 43 states - almost 40 per cent of the USA coal fleet, according to data by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a trade group representing utilities such as Southern Co. and producers such as Peabody Energy Corp.

"We agree with those policymakers who have become increasingly concerned that coal retirements are a threat to grid resilience and national security", she said.

Administration officials are on track to finalize the new regulation next year, following a 60-day public comment period on Tuesday's proposal, but critics have already vowed to battle the effort in federal court and the legal disputes could take years to resolve.

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