Trump seeks to roll back Obama-era coal emissions standards

President Donald Trump in Washington DC on Aug. 20 2018

A recently introduced Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan to ease restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants would lead to new carbon-related health issues and as many as 1,400 premature deaths per year, according to an EPA analysis of the proposal.

Trump's regulations have to go through a 60-day public comment period before they are finalized. The Trump Administration's rule is expected to face the same opposition that the Clean Power Plan faced: that rule was put on hold by the Supreme Court in February 2016, and when Trump took office he moved to do away with the plan entirely. "Today's proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump's goal of energy dominance".

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

The president is due to trumpet the new plan as he rallies supporters Tuesday night in the coal-producing state of West Virginia.

"EPA is not denying that climate change is happening or EPA's obligation to address the harmful health impacts of carbon pollution that's fueling climate change", says Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama. Although it is unlikely to dramatically alter the US power mix - or give a big boost to domestic coal demand, which has flagged amid competition from cheap natural gas and renewables - industry advocates hailed the effort as curbing federal government overreach and leveling the playing field.

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"This is really a plan to prop up coal plants - or try to", said David Doniger, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defence Council, an environmental group.

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The rule also could allow power plant owners to sidestep costly permits for those improvements.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Tuesday argued the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan - the policy being replaced by this week's proposal - "exceeded the agency's legal authority" and argued the old regulations led to rising energy prices which have "hurt low and middle income Americans the most".

Environmental Working Group (EWG) president Ken Cook remarked, "When you have a president who doesn't believe in climate change and a former coal lobbyist running the Environmental Protection Agency, they'll stop at nothing to keep a dirty, dying industry on life support-no matter the cost to people and the planet". Carbon emissions are expected to fall by a total of 0.7 to 1.5 percent between 2005 and 2030 - or about one-twelfth the anticipated reductions under the Obama plan. 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.

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said, "EPA has an important role when it comes to addressing the Carbon dioxide from our nation's power plants".

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler praised the decision.

What does this mean for climate change? "The law could not be more clear: It requires EPA to adopt the 'best system of emissions reduction, ' but the EPA has instead opted for the 'lamest system of emissions reduction"'.

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