U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler, signed a legislation that rolls back the Obama-era rule on coal-fired power plants. It is one of the biggest rollbacks of environmental rules by the Trump administration.
The replacement rule gives states leeway in deciding whether to require efficiency upgrades at existing coal plants, the Associated Press reported.
Wheeler said coal-fired power plants remained essential to the power grid, something that opponents deny. “Americans want reliable energy that they can afford,” he said at a news conference. There’s no denying “the fact that fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the mix,” he said.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. was one of several coal country lawmakers on hand for the signing. He argued that power from the sun and wind was not yet reliable enough to depend on. “We’re not ready for renewable energy … so we need coal.”
President Donald Trump campaigned partly on a pledge to bring back the coal industry, which has been hit hard by competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy.
The rule will go into effect shortly after publication in the Federal Register. Environmental groups pledge court challenges.
“The Trump administration’s outrageous Dirty Power Scam is a stunning giveaway to big polluters, giving dirty special interests the greenlight to choke our skies, poison our waters and worsen the climate crisis,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
The Obama rule, adopted in 2015, sought to reshape the country’s power system by encouraging utilities to rely less on dirtier-burning coal-fired power plants and more on electricity from natural gas, solar, wind and other lower or no-carbon sources.
Burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heat is the main human source of heat-trapping carbon emissions.
Supporters of the revised rule say the Obama-era plan overstepped the EPA’s authority.
“This action is recalibrating EPA so it aligns with being the agency to protect public health and the environment in a way that respects the limits of the law,” said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior official at the EPA who helped write the replacement rule. She now runs a nonprofit, Energy45, that supports President Donald Trump’s energy initiatives.
With coal miners at his side , Trump signed an order in March 2017 directing the EPA to scrap the Obama rule. It was one of the first acts of his presidency.
His pledge to roll back regulation for the coal industry helped cement support from owners and workers in the coal industry, and others. Despite his promise, market forces have frustrated Trump’s efforts . Competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable fuel has continued a yearslong trend driving U.S. coal plant closings to near-record levels last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
By encouraging utilities to consider spending money to upgrade aging coal plants, environmental groups argue, the Trump rule could prompt the companies to run existing coal plants harder and longer rather than retiring them.