By Emily Holden
October 6, 2017 - The Trump administration is set to rescind former President Barack Obama’s most important climate regulation, arguing that the greenhouse gas standards for power plants violated federal law and could cost consumers as much as $33 billion, according to a draft proposal obtained by POLITICO.
The 43-page document — expected to be unveiled in the coming days — fulfills a major campaign promise by President Donald Trump, who has attacked Obama’s rule as a job-killer, labeled man-made climate change a “hoax” and held a Rose Garden ceremony in June to announce his plans to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
Thomas Pyle, president of the industry-backed American Energy Alliance, praised the news as a "big win for American workers and families," describing Obama's rule as "a federal takeover [of] our electricity grid."
But Gina McCarthy, who oversaw the rule's creation as Obama's second-term EPA administrator, called Trump's move "a wholesale retreat from EPA's legal, scientific and moral obligation to address the threats of climate change."
"They’re adding more pollution into 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," she said in a statement Friday.
Any concrete results from Trump's decision will be years in the making, as the EPA grinds through the formal process of rescinding the regulation while seeking suggestions from the public on possible replacements. The agency will also face inevitable legal challenges from environmental groups and Democratic-leaning states.
And all the while, scientists have warned, time is dwindling for the U.S. and other nations to forestall the most catastrophic storms, floods, droughts, epidemics and mass migrations expected to be triggered by a warming planet.
Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of his hopes for a legacy on climate change, aimed to reduce the power industry’s carbon dioxide pollution levels 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The regulation was the United States’ first major effort toward meeting its pledges to help curb climate change, following years in which the U.S had rejected the 1997 Kyoto climate accord and Congress failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation during Obama’s first term.
The rule set goals for each state that were aimed at hastening the country's shift away from coal-fired power and toward more natural gas, wind, solar and energy efficiency, using tools that would have encouraged steps by consumers and a wide swath of the economy. Obama’s EPA maintained it was on solid legal ground, despite its reliance on a seldom-used provision of the Clean Air Act.
In its draft proposal, Trump’s EPA argues that the regulation is illegal because it doesn’t focus solely on what coal plants alone could do to cut their carbon emissions.
The withdrawal also discounts many of the health and economic benefits that Obama’s EPA has contended the rule would achieve, as POLITICO reported Thursday night. The Obama administration had estimated that the social benefits of reducing carbon levels, slowing climate change and ratcheting down illness-causing air pollution would far outweigh the costs.
POLITICO, Bloomberg and The Washington Post have previously reported details of the proposal.
More than half the states and dozens of fossil-fuel reliant industries sued over the rule, and the Supreme Court froze implementation in 2016 amid those challenges. One of the top plaintiffs attacking the rule was then-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is now Trump’s EPA administrator.
Besides withdrawing the rule, EPA will soon serve formal notice of its plans to take comments on ideas for replacing it, probably with efficiency standards for coal plants. Writing a new proposal would take years and would be a sign that Pruitt — who has questioned the human role in changing the climate — acknowledges EPA’s legal obligation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
EPA has not determined whether it will replace the rule nor "if it will do so, when it will do so and what form that rule will take," according to the withdrawal text prepared for the Federal Register. The agency will solicit feedback in a separate advanced notice of proposed rulemaking.
Some conservative groups have pressed for Pruitt to simply erase Obama’s rule and offer no replacement at all. But that would force the Trump administration to attack the mainstream science about climate change, opening a battle many Republicans are convinced it would lose.
Even so, Trump's conservative and pro-fossil fuel supporters praised the news that he was taking the plunge to rescind Obama's rule.
"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," said a statement from Hal Quinn, CEO of the National Mining Association.
In contrast, climate advocates and many think tanks and academics say Trump and Pruitt are simply wrong to argue that shifting to cleaner sources of energy would wreck the U.S. economy. Recent analysis shows the power sector moving faster than expected to lower carbon levels, due to low renewable energy and natural gas costs that make it uneconomic to run coal plants.