Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said Monday he’ll sign a proposed rule to withdraw the Clean Power Plan.
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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s move to start dismantling the Clean Power Plan rule intended to curb carbon emissions that contribute to global warming will not be a quick process.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement Sunday to a group of coal miners in eastern Kentucky that he plans to sign a proposed rule Tuesday rolling back the Obama-era rule is simply the first of a number of steps the agency will have to take.
Proposing a rule to undo a regulation takes the same time-consuming, pain-staking, research-based, legally-defensible process used to adopt the very rule targeted for elimination.
“Today’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan just begins the battle,” David Doniger, a climate change expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a blog Monday. “Pruitt’s EPA must hold hearings and take public comment, and issue a final repeal — with or without a possible replacement. He must respond to all legal, scientific, and economic objections raised, including the issues we lay out here.”
And then, Doniger said, “we will take Pruitt and his Dirty Power Plan to court.”
Rolling back the rule was a major plank of President Trump’s campaign last year.
He told friendly crowds in coal-producing states that lifting carbon restrictions would not only keep energy costs affordable but also help revitalize the coal industry and the communities economically ravaged by environmental regulations.
The president has called climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by China to gain a competitive advantage. And he’s vowed to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, the international accord on global warming Obama embraced through his power plan rule.
The budget outline the White House issued earlier this year called for defunding the Clean Power Plan that Obama announced in 2015, which some two dozen states are suing to overturn. Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general before joining the Trump administration, is one of those states.
Appearing in Hazard, Ky., Sunday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Pruitt announced his plan to withdraw the rule saying Washington would no longer play favorites when it comes to energy production:
“When you think about the clean power plan it wasn’t about regulating to make things regular. It was truly about regulating to pick winners and losers and they interpreted the best system of emission reduction is generating electricity not using fossil fuels. Rule of law matters. Because rule of law is something that allows you to know what is expected of you. When you have a regulation passed inconsistent with the statute (it) creates uncertainty. That’s what happened with the past administration. We’re getting back to the basics of focusing on rule of law and acting on the authority that Congress has given us.”
The Clean Power Plan rule was finalized in 2015, mainly targeting coal-fired power plants that account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. But it remains on hold under a Supreme Court stay pending the outcome of the legal challenge from the states.
Aimed squarely at coal-fired power plants, the regulation requires existing power plants to cut harmful emissions compared to 2005 levels. By 2030, the reduction would be 32% for carbon, 90% for sulfur dioxide and 72% for nitrogen oxides.
The rule was developed over years to cut “significant amounts of power plant carbon pollution and the pollutants that cause the soot and smog that harm health, while advancing clean energy innovation, development and deployment, and laying the foundation for the long-term strategy needed to tackle the threat of climate change,” according to an explanation from Obama’s EPA Web site.
Obama officials also touted the rule as key to protecting public health “because carbon pollution comes packaged with other dangerous air pollutants.” Having the rule in place, it says, would prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed work days and school days each year.
“This is a reckless retreat that will hurt our children and grandchildren,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, echoing environmental activists and public health advocates.
Obama officials depicted the rule as one that gives states and utilities “ample flexibility and the time needed to achieve these pollution cuts … while expanding the capacity for zero- and low-emitting power sources.”
But opponents do not see it that way.
States are suing because they contend Washington does not have the authority to enact such a sweeping measure that they said would lead to higher electricity costs and reduced reliability of the nation’s power grid.
When the rule was implemented in 2015, New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Bob Martin called the rule “unprecedented regulatory overreach (that was) uncommonly cumbersome, difficult and costly to implement, could undermine reliability, and would yield insufficient results.”
Paul Bailey, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, applauded the president earlier this year when he signed an executive order directing the EPA to begin the process of reviewing and rescinding the controversial rule.
“The Clean Power Plan is the poster child for regulations that are unnecessarily expensive and would have no meaningful environmental benefit,” Bailey said. “We look forward to working with EPA Administrator Pruitt to develop sensible policies that protect the environment without shutting down more coal-fueled power plants, one of our most resilient and affordable sources of electricity.”
Environmentalists have vowed to do what they can to block Pruitt’s rollback.
“The EPA’s announcement is the start, not the end of the process,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote on the organization’s Web site:
We must continue to make the case for lowering carbon pollution from power plants and accelerating the transition to clean energy, and put Pruitt’s EPA through the wringer for abandoning this key tool. At the same time, we must push for actions by states, cities, businesses, and others to accelerate the transition to clean energy, regardless of what EPA ultimately does. And finally, one hopes that the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which still has jurisdiction over this case, sees through this gambit and does its job—decide this legal dispute once and for all, the sooner, the better.
EPA officials say the proposed repeal will be conducted in a “robust, open, and transparent way, presenting a wide range of analysis scenarios to the public.”
Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for the agency, said any rule the administration proposes “will be done carefully and properly within the confines of the law.”
Contributing: Doyle Rice of USA TODAY