The Trump administration is giving states a pathway to keep coal power plants running, and many will likely seize the opportunity.
The window opened Tuesday when the Environmental Protection Agency revealed its plan to scrap President Barack Obama’s greenhouse gas regulations for the nation’s power plants. The Trump administration intends to replace the rules with a policy that will make it easier for states to continue burning coal.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested the rule would help keep the nation’s embattled coal plants online, advancing his goal of reviving the coal industry.
“We’re canceling Obama’s illegal anti-coal destroying regulations, the so-called Clean Power Plan,” he said during a rally in Charleston, West Virginia. “Just today we announced our new Affordable Clean Energy proposal that will help our coal-fired power plants and save consumers — you, me, everybody — billions and billions of dollars.”
There are at least 16 states that oppose Trump’s move, but many governors will welcome the reversal. More than two dozen U.S. states took part in a lawsuit to overturn Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
Much of that opposition came from regions where coal plants are fighting to maintain their foothold: Appalachia, the Great Plains, the Midwest, the Southeast and Texas.
Coal-fired facilities — one of the biggest contributors to climate change — have accounted for about half of U.S. power plant closures over the last decade. Obama’s Clean Power Plan was poised to accelerate those retirements by setting ambitious emissions targets for states. Those goals encouraged states to build more wind and solar farms or convert coal plants to natural gas-fired facilities.
Trump’s replacement for the policy — the Affordable Clean Energy rule — instead asks states to submit plans to make coal plants run more efficiently by improving their heat rate, or the amount of heat necessary to generate a unit of electric power. That already lowers the bar for emissions reductions, but the EPA also says it won’t set a minimum requirement. Policy analysts say that will likely spark a race to the bottom in much of the country.
“Many states will try to find ways to opt out by putting in really modest standards,” said David Konisky, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “States may have the ability to put in place rules that are in the spirit of addressing climate change but they are not really significant.”
The question is, where will weak rules have the greatest impact on climate emissions? To start, about 20 states still burn a significant amount of coal to generate power.