The Trump Administration has drawn up plans that empower states to establish emission standards for coal-fired power plants while rolling back Obama-era rules on carbon dioxide emissions. If passed, the proposal would provide a lifeline to aging coal fired plants by including measures that would push utilities to invest in coal-fired plants to make them more efficient and competitive.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own impact analysis, which runs nearly 300 pages, projects that the proposal would make only slight cuts to overall emissions of pollutants — including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — over the next decade. The Obama rule, by contrast, dwarfs those cuts by a factor of more than 12.
The new proposal, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period, could have enormous implications for dozens of aging coal-fired power plants across the country. The Washington Post reported that EPA estimates the measure will affect more than 300 U.S. plants, providing companies with an incentive to keep coal plants in operation rather than replacing them with cleaner natural gas or renewable energy projects.
Michelle Bloodworth, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which represents coal-fired generators and mining companies, described the proposed rule to the Financial Times as “a big step in the right direction” by the EPA. She added that industry believed the regulations would “provide the flexibility to states to develop emissions guidelines that recognize the important role that our nation’s coal fleet plays.”
And while EPA projects that the U.S. power sector’s overall carbon output will decline over time due to market pressures and other factors, the policy shift would make it increasingly difficult for America to meet the international climate goals it adopted under the previous administration.
Under the EPA’s new plan, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that help form smog would be cut between 1 percent and 2 percent by 2030 — from 2005 levels. Under Obama the agency projected its policy would reduce those pollutants by 24 percent and 22 percent, respectively, by the end of the next decade.
Utility companies, which had joined states in suing to block the Obama-era climate rule, would save annual compliance costs for the industry by about $400 million a year.
Many utilities have moved to retire coal plants in recent years and switch to either natural gas or renewable power, which are more economically competitive. But the proposed rule, which focuses on improving their heat efficiency and would allow for upgrades without triggering the kinds of pollution controls currently required under federal law, could shift that dynamic.