WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s proposal to replace an Obama-era policy to fight climate change with a weaker plan allowing states to write their own rules on emissions from coal-fired power plants was criticized by coastal states, but applauded by coal interests on Wednesday.
Under the proposed Affordable Clean Energy plan that acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler issued in August, the federal government would set carbon emission guidelines, but states would have the leeway to set less stringent standards on coal plants, taking into account the age and upgrade costs of facilities.
The heads of environmental and energy agencies from 14 mostly coastal states, including California, New York and North Carolina, told the EPA in joint comments on the Trump plan that it would result in minimal reductions of greenhouse gases, and possibly result in increased emissions, relative to having no federal program on the pollution.
“We urge EPA to abandon this proposal and instead to maintain or update the (Obama era) Clean Power Plan,” which the states said would fulfill EPA’s obligations under federal clean air law and support the efforts of states to mitigate the effects of climate change. Some states including New York and Virginia have threatened to sue the EPA if the plan becomes law.
The comment period on the plan ends on Wednesday night and a final rule from the EPA is expected later this year.
Coal and some utility interests lauded the Trump plan.
“The proposed ACE rule is a welcome return to federal restraint after years of punitive overreach,” said Hal Quinn, the president and CEO of the National Mining Association, an industry group.
The coal industry had said President Barack Obama’s climate regulations represented a “war on coal,” but Trump’s promises to reduce regulations have not led to a revival, as the industry struggles with competition from an abundance of cheap natural gas. Ongoing closings of coal-fired plants have pushed U.S. coal consumption by utilities this year to the lowest since 1983, according to the Energy Information Administration.
In August, the EPA projected the plan would result in $400 million a year in economic benefits and reduce retail power prices by up to 0.5 percent by 2025. The EPA also forecast that under the rule, coal production would rise by up to 5.8 percent by 2025.
The Obama-era plan, which had been put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court, set overall carbon-reduction goals for each state.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner