Trump seeks to roll back Obama-era coal emissions standards

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The Trump administration signaled Monday it is intent on removing some Obama-era environmental rules by signing a proposal that would soften regulations on coal-burning power plants.

Trump's efforts to save coal have included everything from moving to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change to using national security law to propose intervening in electricity markets to protect coal. Although it is unlikely to dramatically alter the US power mix - or give a big boost to domestic coal demand, which has flagged amid competition from cheap natural gas and renewables - industry advocates hailed the effort as curbing federal government overreach and leveling the playing field.

"As compared to the standards of performance that it replaces... implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health", the EPA said in its analysis. Today, about a third of USA electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants, down from more than half at the turn of the century.

The Natural Resources Defense Council called the replacement proposal Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan'.

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"Bill Wehrum, head of the EPA's air office, said the administration rejects any suggestion the agency has a broad legal duty to combat climate change through regulation of power grids or promotion of cleaner energy".

The administration's Affordable Clean Energy Rule is limited in its scope to coal-fired plants. States have three years to evaluate their power plants and submit proposals for compliance, after which the EPA has another year to review - all before any implementation begins.

'The Obama administration waged a war on American energy with devastating consequences for workers and manufacturers, ' the Wisconsin Republican said. But it remains on the books as part of the EPA's legally mandated role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the main differences between the Trump administration's proposals and the clean power plan? In the scenario the EPA suggests is the most likely to occur, between 470 to 1,400 people would die in the year 2030 due to increases of the air pollutant PM 2.5, which can cause everything from minor irritations to cancer and heart disease.

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Gina McCarthy, the Obama administration EPA chief who finalized the Clean Power Plan, called the Trump administration's proposal "just another step in industry's playbook to dismantle regulations that they find inconvenient but are absolutely essential for our public health and our kids' future". Conservatives have filed a half dozen petitions challenging the endangerment finding, though Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has signaled he is not eager to reconsider the issue. Such changes "will barely make a dent in cutting heat-trapping emissions from the electricity sector, and could even, under some circumstances, lead to increased emissions depending on how much the plants are run", Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement.

Even so, the Obama plan has been a factor in the wave of retirements of coal-fired plants, which also are being squeezed by lower costs for natural gas and renewable power and state mandates that promote energy conservation.

"The Obama EPA was really engaged in social engineering, which is not the roll of the U.S. EPA", Wheeler said on "Countdown to the Closing Bell". The Clean Power Plan never went into effect because of court battles.

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