New EPA rule targets Obama-era limits on coal-fired power plant emissions
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New EPA rule targets Obama-era limits on coal-fired power plant emissions

The EPA announced on Wednesday that it had finalized a new rule to replace stringent emissions limits imposed under the Obama administration on coal-burning power plants.

The new regulation, dubbed the Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE) by EPA chairman Andrew Wheeler, aims to relax pollution standards from the stringent limits established under the Clean Power Plan (CPP) implemented by President Obama in 2015. The ACE rule aims to reduce coal-fired power plant Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions by “up to 35% of 2005 levels” by 2030. Currently, more than 1.3 billion tons of CO2 are emitted by coal-fired power plants annually. According to the EPA’s press release, the new rule seeks to reduce output by 11 million tons annually by the end of the next decade, a decrease of only 3.6%. The EPA expects the difference to come from “additional expected emissions reductions based on long-term industry trends” as coal plants continue to close due to cheaper renewable energy sources replacing them.

Additionally, unlike the CPP, which regulated CO2 emissions at a statewide level to incentivize states to close older, more polluting plants quickly, the ACE rule directs every state to establish its own air-quality standards with which to regulate each power plant located in the state individually. States have three years to promulgate their own regulations for EPA approval. Chairman Wheeler said in a press release that the ACE rule “ensur[es] the American public has access to affordable, reliable energy in a manner that continues our nation’s environmental progress.”

President Trump campaigned on a platform of reducing the regulatory burden on energy companies, and his EPA quickly swore to undo Obama-era rules. In addition, a group of Republican state attorneys general and energy companies sued to block the implementation of the CPP, though the case was not decided by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals before Trump took office and has since been put on hold. Prior to his appointment to the EPA in 2017, Chairman Wheeler worked as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, one of the largest coal mining operators in the US and one of the companies that sued to block the CPP.

The new rule has been harshly criticized by environmental advocacy groups. The Sierra Club called the plan a “deadly roadblock” and an “illegal giveaway to the coal industry” in a press release, while the Environmental Defense Fund called it a “failed and dangerous path.”