The administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, announced on 9 October that within days he would sign a new rule overriding former president Obama’s Clean Coal Plan to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The Clean Power Plan was key to Washington’s implementation of the Paris agreement on climate change, from which Trump withdrew in June. It aimed to reduce US power industry’s carbon dioxide pollution levels 32 % below 2005 levels by 2030. It dictated specific emission targets for states based on power-plant emissions and gave officials broad latitude to decide how to achieve reductions.
The US supreme court put the plan on hold last year following legal challenges by industry and coal-friendly states. Even so, the plan helped drive a recent wave of retirements of coal-fired plants, which also are being squeezed by lower costs for natural gas and renewable power, as well as state mandates promoting energy conservation.
“The war … is over”
The executive order that started the process of unravelling Barack Obama’s plan to curb global warming sources in the USA was signed on 28 March by Donald Trump. The administrator of the US EPA Scott Pruitt, who was picked by Trump because of his known denialist views and actions, claimed that the move would be “pro-growth and pro-environment”.
“The war on coal is over,” declared Pruitt at an event in the coal mining state of Kentucky attended by one of the state’s US senators, the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
For Pruitt, getting rid of the Clean Power Plan will mark the culmination of a long fight he began as the elected attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt was among about two dozen attorney generals who sued to stop Barack Obama’s push to limit carbon emissions. Pruitt has close ties with the oil and gas industry in his home state. He rejects the consensus of scientists that emissions from burning fossil fuels are the primary driver of global climate change.
Donald Trump, who shares his skepticism of established climate science, promised to kill the clean power plan during the 2016 campaign as part of his broader pledge to revive the nation’s struggling coal mines.
In his order, Pruitt is expected to declare that the EPA’s Rule to implement the Plan exceeded federal law by setting emissions standards that power plants could not reasonably meet. Previously, Pruitt had declared: “The EPA and no federal agency should ever use its authority to say to you [coal industry firms] we are going to declare war on any sector of our economy.”
One company in the sector, Whayne Supply, which trades in mining materials, has laid off about 60% of its workers in recent years. While cheering the demise of the clean power plan as a way to ‘stop the bleeding’, Mitch McConnell conceded most of those lost jobs are never coming back. “A lot of damage has been done,” he said. “This doesn’t immediately bring everything back, but we think it stops further decline of coal-fired plants in the United States and that means there will still be some market here.”
The withdrawal of the clean power plan is the latest in a series of moves by Trump and Pruitt to dismantle Obama’s legacy on fighting climate change. These were not just about climate change emissions – they also included the delay or roll back of rules limiting levels of toxic pollution in smokestack emissions and wastewater discharges from coal-burning power plants.
Trump announced earlier this year that he would pull the US out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. Nearly 200 countries have committed to combat global warming by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
According to Pruitt “this president has tremendous courage. He put America first and said to the rest of the world: we are going to say no and exit the Paris accord. That was the right thing to do.”
While the coal miners celebrated the news, the administration’s critics blasted the decision.
"By saving an estimated 240 million tons of annual coal production, the administrator’s action helps to safeguard more than 27 000 mining jobs and almost 100 000 additional jobs throughout the supply chain," Hal Quinn, CEO of the National Mining Association, said in a statement.
But while the coal miners celebrated the news, critics less personally involved blasted the decision. Environmental groups and public health advocates have derided the decision as shortsighted. “Trump is not just ignoring the deadly cost of pollution, he’s ignoring the clean energy deployment that is rapidly creating jobs across the country,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.
The move “is a wholesale retreat from EPA's legal, scientific and moral obligation to address the threats of climate change," said Gina McCarthy, Obama’s former EPA administrator. "They’re adding more pollution to our air and threatening public health at a time when the threats of climate change are growing and the costs are growing immeasurably higher on our children and their future".