The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule which replaces the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. According to the EPA, the new rule “restores the rule of law and empowers states to continue to reduce emissions while providing affordable and reliable energy for all Americans.” ACE targets heat rate improvements as the “best system” to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
“Unlike the Clean Power Plan, ACE adheres to the Clean Air Act and gives states the regulatory certainty they need to continue to reduce emissions and provide a dependable, diverse supply of electricity that all Americans can afford,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, in a statement. “When ACE is fully implemented, we expect to see U.S. power sector CO2 emissions fall by as much as 35 percent below 2005 levels.”
The history of the Clean Power Plan
A 2003 petition asked the federal government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which the EPA under George W. Bush concluded it lacked the authority to do under the Clean Air Act. Attorneys general of 12 states, along with cities and environmental organizations, took the EPA to court. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration. The EPA was then required to determine if greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act. In 2009, the Obama administration’s EPA completed its Endangerment Finding review, concluding that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health. The Obama administration then crafted the Clean Power Plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from utilities.
A do-nothing rule replaces the Clean Power Plan
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) calls ACE a “do-nothing rule that will produce only minor reductions in power plant carbon pollution if any at all.” The environmental organization’s analysis of the new rule finds that restricting emissions reductions to “trivial heat-rate improvements” only reduces carbon emissions by less than one percent, and could lead to an emissions increase. The analysis also finds that the rule violates the Clean Air Act by removing a requirement for states to meet a specific emission reduction target.
The NRDC believes that the EPA could have chosen to strengthen the Clean Power Plan and give it teeth to reduce power plant emissions by 60 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 “at a reasonable cost” which would yield $100 billion in climate and health benefits.
The Sierra Club describes ACE as “the dirty power plan” and calls it a “deadly rollback and an illegal giveaway to the coal industry.” Since Trump’s election, over 50 coal plants have made retirement announcements. “Five states and over 125 cities have committed to 100 percent clean energy,” according to Glen Hooks, Director of the Arkansas Sierra Club.
“This so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule fails to protect Americans from the increasing cost of climate change and does nothing to support clean energy,” the Environmental Defense Fund stated. “It is a disgrace.”
ACE will not stop coal’s decline
Economist Charles Kolstad pointed out to the Stanford News Service that coal power’s main problems are “cheap natural gas and risks associated with investing in it.” Kolstad added that “the ACE will have very little impact on the continuing decline of coal-fired electricity production over the coming decade.”
Climate policy expert Michael Wara believes that “unless there is a dramatic change in the price of natural gas, “coal-fired electricity is likely to continue to decline in importance while natural gas and renewable energy will increase as sources of power.”
The NRDC will challenge the new rule in court
The NRDC stated that it “won’t idly stand by,” but will challenge the new rule in court. The organization will attempt to show in its lawsuit that repealing the Clean Power Plant and replacing it with ACE violates the Clean Air Act.
State attorneys general in blue states indicated they will sue the Trump administration over the rollback of the Clean Power Plan. New York Attorney General Leticia James said, “I intend to sue the EPA over this “Dirty Power” rule and look forward to collaborating with other states and cities in taking action to protect all Americans from the increasingly disastrous impacts of climate change.”
“President Trump’s Dirty Power Plan is more than just disgraceful and immoral, it is unlawful,”said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra of the ACE rule.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said of the rollback of the Clean Power Plan, “As Colorado’s Attorney General, I will take whatever actions are necessary and appropriate to protect our land, air, and water.”