What to Know About Trump’s Order to Dismantle the Clean Power Plan

Source: By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A coal-fired energy plant in Ghent, Ky., in 2014. Such plants are the main target of the Clean Power Plan.Luke Sharrett for The New York Times 

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that calls on Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to take steps to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, a set of rules regulating energy plants powered by fossil fuels.

What was happening with the Clean Power Plan until now?

The plan, which would have regulated carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-powered electricity plants, has been tied up in courts for more than a year, after more two dozen states, industry representatives and others sued the E.P.A. They claimed that the plan was unconstitutional, and it hadn’t yet taken effect because the Supreme Court had said the plan could not be carried out while it was being argued before a lower federal court.

Mr. Trump criticized the Clean Power Plan during the campaign and promised to bring back coal mining jobs and create new jobs in the fossil fuel industry; the rules would have made that more difficult. Mr. Pruitt, as Oklahoma’s attorney general, sued the E.P.A. 14 times over environmental regulations, including the Clean Power Plan.

What happens next?

The problem for Mr. Trump and Mr. Pruitt is that, if they get rid of this plan, they are legally required to come up with another one.

Plus, in order to repeal regulations, federal agencies have to follow the same rule-making system (requiring periods of public notice and comment) used to create regulations, which can take about a year.

Keep in mind that 18 state attorneys general and several environmental advocacy groups had previously moved to defend the rule, and they may challenge whatever alternative Mr. Pruitt might devise.

Would getting rid of the Clean Power Plan bring back coal and coal industry jobs?

Some of the arguments against the Clean Power Plan have come from the fossil fuel industries — specifically the coal industry, since coal-fired power plants are the main target of the rules. They have argued that the plan is overly punitive toward them.

However, the proliferation of cheap natural gas and a rise in renewable energy sources have made coal less financially sustainable.

Removing regulations on coal-fired power plants wouldn’t necessarily bring back a lot of coal jobs. Most coal mining, especially mountaintop removal mining, is done by machines, so it would be hard to bring back the thousands of jobs that have been lost as coal becomes less and less profitable.

And opening up more federal lands and waters to fossil fuel extraction might lead to a glut of coal in the market, which could make it even less financially viable than it is now.

How does this relate to the Paris agreement?

The Obama administration used the creation of the Clean Power Plan to show other countries that the United States was serious about taking meaningful action on climate change during the Paris climate talks in late 2015. The plan is the most significant part of the strategy to cut emissions by the amount specified in the Paris agreement.

Even with the Clean Power Plan in effect, it would have been tough for the United States to meet its Paris agreement targetsWithout the plan or another one at least as stringent on greenhouse gases, it will be nearly impossible, experts say.

If the rule is completely abandoned and no comparable alternative is offered, it might signal to the rest of the world that the United States isn’t serious about its obligations under the Paris agreement (which Mr. Trump has also said he would “cancel,” though there is disagreement about that in his cabinet). That might make other countries feel less bound by the terms of the agreement, too.