As widely expected, President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Aug. 21) repealed the Obama era “Clean Power Plan” and installed laxer regulations that federal EPA officials said would cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing coal-fired power plants across the country.
The Trump administration’s proposal, which is called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, replaces former President Barack Obama’s landmark climate change initiatives that were developed and proposed in June 2014 by former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. Those rules, if implemented under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, would have forced states to come up with plans to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 32% by 2030, thereby shutting down most of the nation’s coal-fired power plant fleet.
Under the new ACE rules, the Trump administration said Arkansas and other states can now begin developing their own plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions at their power plants, which acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said promotes energy independence and facilitates economic growth and job creation.
“The Trump administration’s plan respects the law, promotes energy independence and supports economic growth and job creation. EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE), would restore the states’ proper role under the Clean Air Act and our system of federalism,” Wheeler said in a conference call with reporters.
“Our plan would allow states to establish standards of performance that meet EPA emissions guidelines,” Wheeler continued. “Unlike the CPP, the ACE rule would not interfere with states as they construct diverse, reliable energy portfolios that can provide affordable energy to fuel economic growth.”
According to the EPA, the proposed remake of the nation’s climate change policy received more than 270,000 public comments as part of its advance notice of proposed rulemaking announced in December. Under the EPA’s regulatory impact analysis, Trump’s replacement plan could provide $400 million in annual net benefits.
Under four other different scenarios, Trump administration officials said the so-called ACE proposal would also cut carbon emissions from their current level and further reduce 2030 dirty air standards by up to 1.5% without the Clean Power Plan, the equivalent of taking 5.3 million cars off the road.
Once the Trump rules are fully implemented, the carbon emissions from the nation’s power sector could be 33% to 34% below 2005 levels, higher than the projected CO2 emissions reductions under the more stringent Obama era regulations, EPA officials said.
Following Tuesday’s announcement by the EPA, the nation’s environmental community universally denounced the rollback of the Obama era “dirty air” regulations and called the Trump ACE rules a watered down version of the former. Several environmental trade groups also noted the connection between the new ACE rules and Wheeler’s ties to the coal industry. Also noted was the connection to the agenda of former EPA Director Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who resigned as EPA chief in early July under the heat of 14 separate federal investigations over agency spending, conflicts of interests, Freedom of Information Act violations and other management practices.
“Today, former coal lobbyist and acting EPA Administrator Wheeler released an unlawfully weak carbon pollution policy that would gut the Clean Power Plan’s life-saving standards and do next to nothing to fight the climate crisis, continuing the agenda of disgraced former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt,” said Glen Hooks, president of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club. “The Wheeler-Pruitt proposal pales in comparison to the previous administration’s ambitious policy to work with states to dramatically reduce carbon pollution, promote economic and environmental justice, protect public health, and remove barriers to America’s clean energy economy.”
The nation’s coal industry applauded the new regulations to replace the far-reaching Clean Power Plan rules, citing that more than 40% of the U.S. coal-fired power plant feet has already been shuttered or is planning to be shut down.
“We are pleased that EPA has proposed a rule to replace the Clean Power Plan, especially one that allows the states to play a crucial role in determining which emission reduction measures make sense. In contrast to the illegal Clean Power Plan, EPA’s proposal is based on a correct reading of the Clean Air Act,” said Michelle Bloodworth, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “The Clean Power Plan would have caused more fuel-secure coal-fired power plants to retire prematurely even though policy makers have become increasingly concerned that coal retirements are a threat to grid resilience and national security.”
Many of the nation’s top electricity producers remained tight-lipped after the EPA’s announcement. New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., the parent company of Entergy Arkansas, released a statement ahead of the EPA’s press conference announcing that it had taken steps to protect its four-state power grid and improve restoration efforts ahead of the U.S. hurricane season. Over the last year, Entergy CEO Leo Denault has touted the company’s transformation from a hybrid power generator to a “pure-play” utility operator with subsidiaries in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. That decision has led to the sale of several of its nuclear plants and older natural gas- and coal-fired power plants.
Ohio-based American Electric Power, one of the nation’s largest owners of coal-fired electric generation and parent company of Southwestern Electric Power Co., also initiated plans to upgrade its energy mix by adding more renewable options to its diverse resource portfolio. That strategy includes plans to invest approximately $24 billion on utility upgrades and renewable and clean energy investments through 2021, notwithstanding the July 27 cancellation of the $4.5 billion multistate Wind Catcher project that would have been the largest wind farm in America and the second-largest in the world.
Before Tuesday’s development, several other events had already weakened the impact of former President Obama’s key climate change policy, including a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in February that granted a request by Arkansas and 26 other states to block the government-mandated shift to renewable energy and cheaply-produced natural gas.
Earlier in 2016, following a Supreme Court stay that first blocked implementation of the new dirty air regulations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson had instructed the state Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) to halt stakeholder compliance meetings to put Arkansas on track to cut carbon pollution levels by 36% before 2030.
On a separate EPA track to cut regional haze from Arkansas’ dirtiest power plants, Entergy Arkansas moved forward to comply with the federal smog rules by announcing the eventual shutdown of its coal-fired operations at the White Bluff Electric Station in Jefferson County. The alternative was a costlier plan to install scrubbers atop the smokestacks of the sprawling power plant near Redfield by 2021.
Denault and former Entergy Arkansas CEO Rick Riley said the proposed haze controls for the White Bluff power plant did not warrant an investment of more than $2 billion in scrubber technology at the plants. Under the Entergy Plan, the utility would cease all coal-fired operations at the two coal-fired units in 2027 and 2028.
Nearly two weeks ago, after nearly three years of planning, ADEQ officials submitted a final draft of Arkansas’ haze plan to EPA’s regional officials in Dallas that would also roll back emission standards for power plants in Arkansas. Like changes announced Tuesday to the Clean Power Plan, new Trump administration rules on regional haze also allow state regulators to replace the more-stringent Obama era rules with more business-friendly policies.