White House says new pollution controls business, environmentally friendly
States are set to play a larger role in fighting global climate change after the president’s top environmental cop set new pollution limits. But, critics argue the administration set the environmental bar as low as it legally can.
While much of President Donald Trump’s agenda is stuck in Washington gridlock, his administration didn’t need the green light from Congress to repeal and replace President Obama’s coal-power pollution crack-down. “This is another Trump promise made, and promise kept,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
We asked him whether this new rule spells a coal comeback. “At this point I think it might slow down the number of coal plant closures,” Wheeler said.
The president frequently blames regulation for the industry’s decline; energy researchers – like those at West Virginia University -- point to the rise of natural gas.
The E.P.A.’s new rule gives states until 2030 to decrease yearly power plant emissions by a about one-and-a-half percent compared to 2005. “It really does provide more flexibility to the states,” said Wheeler, “and allows the country to attain CO2 reductions in a reasonable fashion that follows the law.
Obama’s plan called for 20 times the pollution reduction. But, it never took effect, temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court, and scrapped by Trump. Wheeler argues Obama’s plan wasn’t legal. He also argues it mandated more emissions reduction than necessary given a recent dip in U.S. pollution output.
“We continue to see, unfortunately… the EPA begin to move away from strong science and the law,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, the former head of the E.P.A.’s Environmental Justice Program.
His family roots run through the coal veins of West Virginia. But, he argues the industry is no longer viable – economically, environmentally, or from a public health perspective. He points to the E.P.A.’s own analysis, which predicts air pollution will be worse under Trump’s plan than Obama’s, resulting in more premature deaths and missed school days.
“This plan is actually very dangerous,” he said.
Wheeler argues citing that calculation doesn’t make sense because the Obama plan never took effect, and is therefore a purely hypothetical comparison.
It’s a near-guarantee that the new plan – like the old one -- will be challenged in court. If the rule stands up to legal challenges, states will have three years to write the rules and set the path to fewer emissions.