Trump admin gets an earful on proposed carbon rule

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 2, 2018

From personal pleas to cut air pollution to detailed criticisms of agency policy, members of the public made clear they saw little they liked in EPA’s proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan.

Many of the tens of thousands of comments submitted to the agency ahead of yesterday’s public comment deadline opposed the Affordable Clean Energy rule, the Trump administration’s proposal to cut emissions from power plants. Most opponents called for stricter climate action on the second-largest source of carbon emissions in the country.

But some faulted the agency for drafting a rule at all.

EPA had received more than 90,000 comments as of yesterday on the ACE rule, which would cut carbon emissions by making power plants increase the efficiency of their operation and give states broad discretion to determine how much to regulate. The proposal also includes a parallel measure that would change when plant modifications trigger permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program.

The rule would be a marked change from the Clean Power Plan, which gave states a variety of options for cutting carbon and set an overall nationwide target of reducing power plant emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The public slammed the Trump administration for failing to propose any target for carbon emissions reductions from power plants. Commenters pointed to the recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warned of the need for urgent action to curb climate change.

Members of the volunteer group of former agency employees, Save EPA, said the Trump administration was not “accelerating emissions reductions consistent with warnings from the IPCC and other scientific authorities.” Instead, they said, the agency was releasing a rule that would result in higher levels of emissions.

John Sykes, vice president and founder of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light Inc., called for action to cut carbon, noting that climate change is a “threat multiplier” affecting disaster relief, refugees and global conflict.

“Climate change is an issue that disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable among us — the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, our children and future generations — those whom many of our faith traditions call on their followers to care for,” Sykes wrote.

The rulemaking also drew personal appeals from students at Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill., just south of Chicago, where EPA held its only public hearing on the ACE rule.

One student, BreAunna McKinnis, wrote to the agency about the rule because both she and her cousins had asthma.

“If the climate change keep[s] going on the path that it is, our asthma is going to get worse. Not only for us but for everybody that also [h]as asthma as well. I Hope we can make a change & also make our environment a better place,” McKinnis said.

In defense of its proposed changes, EPA has maintained the power sector has already made great strides in cutting carbon emissions, even absent the Clean Power Plan. The agency projects its replacement rule will meet the CPP emissions reductions target. The Trump EPA also argues the former administration overstepped its legal authority through its interpretation of the “best system of emission reduction” by extending regulations beyond improvements that could be made at power plants.

Save EPA members noted in their comments that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has yet to rule on the legality of the CPP, because litigation over the rule remains stalled.

They argued that if EPA was really concerned about the legality of the CPP, the agency would have urged the D.C. Circuit to rule in the case and “settle the legal questions.”

“If the court finds the CPP is legal, the agency should work with states to implement it expeditiously,” the group wrote. “If the court adopts the Trump Administration’s legal view, the agency should ask Congress for legislation to give EPA authority to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.”

However, outside analysis does show the power sector is already on track to meet the Obama administration’s target reductions about 10 years ahead of schedule.

This week, the Energy Information Administration found that carbon emissions from the power sector in the United States had already declined 28 percent from 2005 levels. EIA credited the shift to slower energy demand growth and changes in the mix of electricity sources. But proponents of the Clean Power Plan say even with this progress, EPA should have maintained the rule to prevent backsliding on emissions cuts in case market pressures change (Greenwire, Oct. 30).

That analysis backs up an earlier estimate in June from the Rhodium Group’s 2018 “Taking Stock” report, which found that the power sector had cut carbon emissions 25 percent below 2005 levels.

Other critics of the CPP, though, felt EPA had not gone far enough in reversing course from the Obama administration.

William Durham, director of the air quality division within the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said he was “deeply concerned” the agency was continuing to regulate greenhouse gases for existing power plants and that EPA should not be proposing a replacement.

However, he noted that if EPA was to proceed with regulation, focusing on efficiency improvements at the facility level was the right approach. Durham also approved of EPA’s altered requirements for triggering New Source Review, but he argued EPA should have modified the pre-construction permitting program before drafting ACE.

Not all comments opposed EPA’s proposed rule.

The Montana Public Service Commission praised EPA for fixing the problems with the CPP it had previously identified, including that the “best system of emission reduction” was not adequately demonstrated, the cost-benefit analysis should include direct costs of rule compliance and states did not have enough flexibility to act.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also cheered EPA’s revisions, praising the agency’s decision to allow states to consider the “remaining useful life” of power plants and units when drafting emissions reductions plans, among other factors.

“The ACE rule provides a dramatic improvement from the costly and potentially unlawful Clean Power Plan (CPP) that preceded it,” the Chamber wrote.