EPA to roll back Obama-era restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.
WASHINGTON — The EPA is rolling back restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from new coal plants, the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to aid an ailing U.S. coal sector.
Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Thursday an Obama-era requirement that new coal plants adopt carbon capture technology would be replaced by a new standard that allows new and more efficient plants to operate without those systems in place.
The previous administration “knew the new technology was not adequately demonstrated,” he said Thursday at a news conference at EPA headquarters. “We are rescinding unfair burdens on America’s energy providers. This proposal would further the historic growth in energy production under President Trump.”
Under a rule adopted by the Obama administration in 2015, new coal-fired plants were only allowed to emit 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatthour of electricity produced, which at current efficiency levels of coal-powered turbines would have required plants to adopt carbon capture.
The new standard proposed by Wheeler would allow up 1,900 pounds of carbon dioxide from large plants and 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from small plants.
Michelle Bloodworth, president of American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, who was present at the announcement, said she had not reviewed the proposal but it appeared to “make it viable for new coal plants to be an option in the United States.”
She said carbon capture “was promising, but it should not be the basis for setting a standard. We feel like it makes sense to replace some of these retiring coal plants with high-efficiency, lowemissions coal plants.”
But many in Washington and the power sector remain skeptical that the changes by EPA will reduce costs enough to for coal plants to compete with gas plants and wind farms.
According to a report this week from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, increasing demand for cleaner electricity from natural gas and renewables means the United States will likely burn through only 691 million short tons of coal this year — the lowest level since 1979 and a 39 percent drop from coal’s 2007 peak.
“While the rollback would make it easier to build a new plant, generating companies still won’t build them,” Andy Roberts, a research director at Wood Mackenzie, said in an email. “The rollback of carbon dioxide restrictions for new coal power plants is like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. Utilities have already made their future plans.”
The announcement the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to expand U.S. fossil fuel production, including oil and natural gas, while rolling back the climate change policies of former President Barack Obama.
It comes as world leaders are meeting in Poland to negotiate next steps following the landmark 2015 agreement on climate change in Paris, a pact that President Donald Trump said last year he would remove the United States from.
“Trump’s proposal is an act of flailing, die-hard climate denial,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of this backward-looking posturing, the government should speed the transition to a clean energy future.”
But within American industry, the announcement drew at least some applause.
Ross Eisenberg, a vice president with the National Association of Manufacturers, called the new rule a “more realistic approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions.”
“The previous rule was a de facto ban on new coal-fired power plants, threatening manufacturers’ long-term access to an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy,” he said in a statement.
A plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H., in 2015. The EPA says rolling back Obama-era restrictions “would further the historic growth” under President Trump.