President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is expected to officially propose a withdrawal from the Clean Power Plan on Tuesday. Former President Barack Obama’s controversial plan was introduced in 2015 and aimed to cut power plant emissions by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.
To cheers from a crowd of coal miners in Kentucky, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said on Monday: “The war on coal is over.” The move comes after Trump issued an executive order in March instructing the EPA to review the plan. The president’s action targeted several environmental initiatives in order to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on natural resource extraction.
Pruitt’s announcement has drawn harsh criticism from supporters of the plan. “Trump’s decision to scrap the plan is a shameful hand-out to profit-driven polluters at the expense of our immediate public health and the livable future of our planet,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Food & Water Watch, a national environmental nonprofit. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., also attacked the rollback on Monday. The CPP “established reasonable and achievable standards to reduce our carbon emissions and create thousands of new clean energy jobs in the process,” Heinrich said. “The Trump administration is taking us in the wrong direction and retreating from our moral obligation to act on climate change.”
Environmentalists laud the CPP as a step toward lessening the nation’s carbon footprint and saving billions of dollars nationwide in climate and public health costs. Yet the plan has long been under fire by fossil fuel interests. As attorney general in Oklahoma last year, Pruitt helped lead a lawsuit that argued the CPP constituted federal overreach and would be costly for states. Power plants would either have to cut back on their emissions or buy credits from utilities elsewhere. These requirements, critics argued, would cripple fossil fuel economies, force plant shutdowns and put Americans out of work. Twenty-seven states joined the challenge, which is still pending.
The plan was the country’s first federal carbon pollution restriction for power plants. Its effects would vary widely from state to state, but overall was estimated to prevent 90,000 annual asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths from air pollution by 2030. West Coast states have vowed to continue pushing for emission reductions, despite the Trump administration’s actions. And as High Country News previously reported, a number of Western states, including California, Washington, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah were likely to meet or exceed their climate reduction targets. Nevada, Arizona and Utah are already aiming to reduce emissions by 15 to 25 percent by 2025.
In February the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the CPP until the lawsuit was addressed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has since put the suit on hold while the administration evaluates the CPP in light of Trump’s executive order. The administration has yet to propose a replacement plan, though a past Supreme Court ruling requires the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Today’s move to dismantle the CPP is just the latest step toward fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise regarding the EPA: “The Department of Environmental Protection—we’re going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left.” As communities across the nation this week are reeling from the recent series of massive hurricanes and deadly wildfires, the administration continues to signal its aversion to addressing an important piece of the puzzle: climate change.
The EPA’s proposed rule to withdraw from the CPP will undergo a public comment period. Environmental groups are expected to mount legal challenges to the rollback, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has already vowed to sue the Trump administration in defense of the plan.
Cover image: Coal-fired power plant. By Jimmy Thomas, Creative Commons, Flickr.
This story originally appeared in High Country News.