Trump EPA to unveil gutting of Obama’s power plant rule

By Valerie Volcovici

(Reuters) – The Trump administration will unveil a new carbon emission rule for the U.S. power industry on Wednesday to replace an Obama-era regulation to fight climate change that it scrapped for being too hard on the coal industry.

The Affordable Clean Energy rule will give states three years to devise their own plans to reduce emissions from power plants and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for review, according to a summary reviewed by Reuters.

The summary said the ACE would also encourage states to cut those emissions mainly by requiring coal-fired plants to improve their efficiency – or boost the amount of power produced relative to the amount of coal burned.

“States will be given the flexibility to design a plan that best suits their citizens environmental and energy needs,” according to the summary, which estimated that the regulation would end up cutting carbon emissions by 35% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Environmentalists and some state attorneys general say such a regulation would keep coal plants running for longer, and is likely to lead to increases, not cuts, in carbon emissions over the next few decades.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan, by contrast, had aimed to slash power plant carbon emissions by more than a third from 2005 levels by 2030 by pushing utilities to drop coal in favor of cleaner fuels like natural gas.

That regulation was never enacted because of lawsuits by Republican states.

President Donald Trump vowed early in his presidency to kill the Clean Power Plan as part of his administration’s attempt to revive the ailing coal industry, arguing the regulation exceeded the federal government’s authority.

“I think the final ACE rule is consistent with President Trump’s commitment to get the EPA out of the business of telling American workers and coal workers how and when they will work,” said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior EPA official who now runs Energy 45 Fund, a pro-Trump advocacy group.

Joe Goffman, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard and former EPA General Counsel who worked on the Clean Power Plan, said the new regulation could allow some coal-fired power plants to avoid retirement by making “hardware fixes and operational changes”.

But a Reuters survey last October of 44 utilities that have announced plans to shutter coal units in coming years showed none of them expected the new EPA proposal would affect the timing of those retirements.

The EPA is also expected to announce changes to the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution, which could result in fewer predicted deaths, the New York Times reported last month. The EPA’s own analysis of its ACE proposal from last August said the policy would result in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Marguerita Choy)