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Trump Announces New Rule Significantly Weakening Obama’s Clean Power Plan

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by Chris White

President Donald Trump announced Monday a new climate rule curtailing elements of his Democratic predecessor’s environmental regulations targeting carbon emissions from coal power plants.

Trump announced a new climate rule — the Affordable Clean Energy, or “ACE,” rule — restricting emission reduction efforts coal companies and states are obligated to employ. ACE does not mention any goals for major emission reductions. Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, on Monday signed a proposal to scrap environmental restrictions on power plants and leave much of the regulation of the industry to states.

The rule sets mere guidelines for states to develop and submit to the EPA plans to establish “patterns of performance” for existing coal plants. Power utilities would get a boost under the plan, which effectively replaces former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The EPA predicts the rule will affect more than 300 power plants.

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Many utilities were forced to retire coal plants and switch to either natural gas or green power. But the proposed rule would likely change that dynamic — it focuses on improving plants’ heat efficiency and permit upgrades without triggering the kinds of pollution controls required under law.

Trump has used the EPA to do the bulk of heavy lifting on regulation rollback. The agency under the tutelage of former Administrator Scott Pruitt moved to undo, delay or block more than 30 environmental regulations during the first few months of his tenure. The rollbacks were more than any other administrator in the agency’s 47-year history over such a short period of time.

The president played his part as well, pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement in August 2017, which compelled the country to cut its overall carbon output between 26 percent and 28 percent by 2025 compared with 2005 levels. The EPA estimates the power sector’s overall carbon emissions would decline between 33 percent and 34 percent under the new plan.

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Scott Segal, an attorney at Bracewell LLP who represents utilities that run coal-fired plants, told The Washington Post Sunday that the Trump administration has sought to wrestle power away from the federal government and tilt it back toward the states.

“The previous administration’s (Obama’s) effort to address greenhouse gases was a complex and unnecessarily burdensome overreach that took much of the responsibility for power systems away from the state regulators, who know them best,” Segal said. “It is why 29 states pushed back against the rules and the Supreme Court blocked their implementation with an unprecedented stay.”

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