WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Wednesday officially replaced the only federal program designed to combat climate change by lowering carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the replacement of former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy, which would require far fewer CO2 reductions, well below what top scientific experts believe is needed to avoid the most calamitous impacts from global warming.
The Trump EPA’s replacement will leave it up to states to decide how or whether to regulate pollution from coal-fired power plants. The new rule is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by a paltry 1.5 percent by 2030, far less than the earlier proposal’s 30 percent target.
The Clean Power Plan was never implemented, because the Supreme Court granted a stay in 2016 in response to lawsuits brought against the Obama EPA by several state attorneys general and industry groups.
Although the CPP did not go into effect, CO2 emissions in the U.S. have been on a steady decline, falling by roughly 14 percent between 2005 and 2017. The downward trend ended in 2018, when carbon emissions increased by 3.4 percent.
In the past decade, the explosion of wind and solar energy and rapid technological advancements in battery storage have led to a plunge in the costs of renewable energy, shoving aside coal, nuclear and natural gas as sources of electricity.
Despite this move by Trump and Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist turned EPA administrator, industry leaders, including major coal users like Southern Co. and Duke Energy, have already pledged to slash emissions by between 30 to 60 percent by 2030.
Ethan Zindler, an analyst with BloombergNEF, said the Trump administration’s new rule will not do much to slow the demise of coal as a source of electricity in the U.S. “It’s just not relevant,” Zindler told the Washington Post. Zindler’s firm estimates U.S. utilities will reduce their carbon output by 55 percent by 2030 through market forces alone.
“This decision is nothing but a craven, last-ditch attempt to fool coal miners into believing President Trump is going to bring back coal,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “The truth is there is nothing President Trump or Administrator Wheeler can do to save this already dying, dirty source of energy. But today’s action will likely extend the life of some coal plants and increase the dangerous pollution they emit into the environment. And that’s bad news for everyone.”
Emissions from coal-fired power plants are a leading source of the air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks in children, lead to early death in adults and intensify climate change. EPA’s own career scientists previously estimated that the Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and lead to climate and health benefits worth up to $93 billion in 2030.
Trump’s proposal would mean 36,000 premature deaths and more than 600,000 cases of childhood respiratory disease each decade, according to Harvard University experts on the human impact of public health policies.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.