Court strikes fatal blow to Trump carbon rule

Source: By Niina H. Farah, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A federal appeals court yesterday struck down the Trump administration’s Clean Power Plan replacement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directed EPA to start over with a new regulatory approach after finding that the agency’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule failed to provide adequate environmental and public health protections.

The decision is a resounding blow to EPA’s efforts to more strictly limit its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, a key goal of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda.

The court vacated and remanded the ACE rule, as well as EPA’s extended compliance timeline for states. The court ruled that EPA relied on a “fundamental misconstruction” of the Clean Air Act.

“The question in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted lawfully in adopting the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule), as a means of regulating power plants’ emissions of greenhouse gases. It did not,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.

Judge Justin Walker started off nine hours of argument over the ACE rule by expressing skepticism of EPA’s approach to the Obama-era regulation (Greenwire, Oct. 8, 2020).

Walker concurred in part and dissented in part on the decision.

President Trump’s ACE rule required states to determine emissions reduction measures that could improve facilities’ heat rate but said that for compliance, the only allowable approach to cutting greenhouse gases was through technological retrofits that could be applied to individual facilities. Critics of the rule said it could extend the life of coal-fired power plants.

The regulation was a sharp departure from the 2015 Clean Power Plan, in which the Obama administration used a systemwide approach that emphasized the use of lower-emitting fuels and carbon trading to meet states’ emissions targets.

Proponents of the Obama-era rule have said they do not wish to revive the Clean Power Plan and instead want EPA to redraft an updated standard.