On Thursday, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced a new rule that will allow coal-fired power plants to emit more than 35 percent more global warming pollution than the current law allows.
The proposal came on the eve of a climate summit in Poland that started over the weekend where world leaders were set to codify the next steps in meeting goals for the Paris Climate Accords.
The new rule is part of President Trump's plan to revitalize the U.S. coal industry.
The existing rule that the new proposal is meant to replace limits emissions of carbon-dioxide from new coal plants to 1,400 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. It was the first step in President Obama's Clean Power Plan designed to reduce emissions from America's electric power plants. To meet current limits, coal plants must either burn some natural gas or install carbon capture technology, which has been shown to be technically feasible, but not economically viable.
The new rule would allow up to 1,900 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.
EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler
Powerplant emissions are a key factor in how effective electric cars can be at reducing emissions. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that an electric car driven in part of the U.S. with a clean power grid can produce no more global-warming emissions than a hypothetical gas car that got 109 mpg (using the clean, but not predominantly renewable California electric grid, for example.)
In regions where electricity production is still heavily dependent on coal, electric cars are responsible for higher emissions than most conventional hybrids. (The UCS has reported that fewer regions are reliant on coal than in recent years, however. And the U.S. has closed more than 250 coal plants since 2010.)
In introducing the measure, Wheeler said, "We are rescinding unfair burdens on American energy providers and leveling the playing field so that new energy technologies can be part of America’s future,” according to a Reuters report.
Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the coal industry. He argued that the proposal would actually reduce global emissions from coal plants, because American companies would have to produce cleaner coal plants, which could then be exported to regions such as China where coal is more prevalent.
President Trump has announced plans to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate agreement and has sent a delegation to the conference in Poland to promote burning fossil fuels. In August, the EPA proposed a rule to replace President Obama's mostly-unimplemented Clean Power Plan, called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule which would roll back powerplant emissions standards more generally.
Environmental advocates and Congressional Democrats were quick to criticize the new proposal. "This proposal is another illegal attempt by the Trump administration to prop up an industry already buckling under the powerful force of the free market,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee.
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