Trump administration will propose repealing Obama’s key effort to combat climate change

Source: By Brady Dennis, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, October 6, 2017

The Trump administration plans to scrap former president Barack Obama’s signature plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the nation’s power plants, arguing that the previous administration overstepped its legal authority, according to a 43-page proposal obtained by The Washington Post.

The proposal, which is expected to be made public over the coming days, comes months after President Trump issued a directive instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the controversial 2015 regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan, as part of a broader effort to obliterate his predecessor’s efforts to make combating climate change a top government priority.

In a copy of the proposed repeal, first reported by Bloomberg News, the EPA does not offer an alternative plan for regulating emissions of carbon dioxide, which the Supreme Court has ruled that the agency is obligated to do. Rather, the agency said it plans to seek public input on how best to cut emissions from natural-gas and coal-fired power plants.

“Any replacement rule that the Trump Administration proposes will be done carefully and properly, within the confines of the law,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an email.

A central piece of Obama’s environmental legacy, the Clean Power Plan aims to slash the greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists agree are fueling the planet’s rapid warming. It also was an integral part of the commitment U.S. officials made as part of a historic international climate accord signed in late 2015 in Paris, from which Trump has said he intends to withdraw.

The Clean Power Plan directed every state to form detailed plans to reduce CO2 emissions from such sources as coal-fired power plants, with the goal of decreasing carbon pollution by about one-third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. But the regulation has been a lightning rod since its inception.

Environmental groups and other supporters have called it a much-needed measure to help nudge the nation toward cleaner sources of energy. Representatives of the oil and gas industry and other opponents argue that the EPA’s regulations would unfairly force power-plant owners to shut down or essentially subsidize competing clean-energy industries.

From the start, the effort has been mired in litigation.

The central case in that fight, West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, has had an unusual legal path. Early last year, the Supreme Court blocked the regulation’s implementation after 27 states and a host of other opponents challenged its legality. Its 5-to-4 decision, which did not address the merits of the lawsuit, came just days before the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

With the Clean Power Plan’s future on the line, a 10-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last September held a marathon day of oral arguments on the case, trying to decipher whether the Obama administration’s proposal went too far in trying to compel power plants to cut carbon-dioxide emissions.

But that court failed to issue a ruling before the Trump administration took office and requested time to reconsider the Clean Power Plan’s future.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who in his previous role as Oklahoma attorney general sued the agency over the Clean Power Plan, has long argued that the Obama administration acted unlawfully. In particular, he and other opponents argued that the regulations required power plants to take actions “outside the fence line,” rather than regulating activities that only take place on a particular facility. In addition, he argued that the Clean Power Plan set emissions limits that could be met only by subsidizing the creation of massive new amounts of wind and solar energy, while also limiting consumption of coal- and gas-powered electricity.

The EPA’s effort to repeal the Clean Power Plan is almost certain to meet with another wave of legal challenges.

“We had a Clean Power Plan. What we’re getting is a Dirty Power Plan,” said David Doniger, senior attorney for climate and clean air at the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding that refusing to crack down on emissions could “leave tens of millions of Americans in greater danger from extreme weather and other climate impacts. And it will cause tens of thousands of early deaths and sicken hundreds of thousands more.”

Doniger vowed that his group and others will again take to the courts.

“EPA is pretending the power industry still looks like those first isolated plants back in the days of Thomas Edison, serving only the immediate area around them,” he said. “The courts are going to look at this very, very hard, and they are not going to buy this fictional view of the way the industry works. Nor are they going to let EPA cook the books on science and economics.”