President Donald Trump's administration on Tuesday announced a plan to weaken regulations on USA coal plants, giving a boost to an industry that former leader Barack Obama had hoped to wind down in order to cut harmful emissions that drive global warming. It would set pollution guidelines based on assumptions about what improvements could be eked out through efficiency upgrades at the facilities, then give states the latitude to design their own plans for paring carbon dioxide emissions at the sites.
Tuesday's move opens a public-comment period on the proposal before any final administration action. Critics say focusing on improved efficiency would allow utilities to run older, dirtier power plants more often, undercutting potential environmental benefits.
The Obama administration used a new reading of the Clean Air Act to implement the new and expansive rules.
The Trump administration signaled Monday it is intent on removing some Obama-era environmental rules by signing a proposal that would soften regulations on coal-burning power plants. The plan is expected to address power plants individually rather than across the electric grid as the EPA proposed under Obama.
The effort to re-write the plan is the latest move by Trump administration to roll back environmental rules put in place by Obama. Particulates from coal-fired power plants lead to a variety of bad health effects, from asthma to premature heart disease.
The mere fact that President Trump is unveiling his new environmental policy at a rally in West Virginia tells you a lot about the nature of his plans: They're coal-friendly and minimally sensitive to the reality of climate change. Conservatives have filed a half dozen petitions challenging the endangerment finding, though Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has signaled he is not eager to reconsider the issue.
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Obama's Clean Power Plan would have reduced carbon emissions dramatically, as much as 19 percent from projected levels by 2030. The policy could reduce incentives to shift away from coal power to cleaner sources of energy.
Since his days campaigning for president, Trump has promised to revive the failing coal industry-telling miners in West Virginia two years ago to get ready to start "working your asses off"-and ignored the well documented consequences for human health and the planet". The Obama administration had worked to nudge the country's power producers to natural gas, wind and solar power, and other less-polluting power sources.
"Today's proposal provides the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump's goal of energy dominance", acting administrator of the EPA Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
The Natural Resources Defense Council called the replacement proposal Trump's "Dirty Power Plan".
But that still might not be enough to dramatically alter the landscape for USA coal, which is losing US customers as utilities increasingly turn to natural gas and renewable power to generate electricity. The new rule would allow coal power plant owners to make efficiency upgrades without triggering any additional costly repairs, as the previous administration hoped to do.
The Trump administration proposal was cheered by business leaders and conservatives who said the Obama initiative illegally sought to compel more renewable power and quash coal.
Trump has vowed to end what Republicans call a "war on coal" waged by Obama.