Cal­i­for­nia sues to block weaker air pol­lu­tion rules

Trump’s plan will in­crease smog and worsen cli­mate change, 22 states say

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Paul Rogers [email protected]­yare­anews­

Cal­i­for­nia and 21 other states on Tues­day sued the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in an at­tempt to over­turn its new rules on pol­lu­tion from power plants, which the states de­scribed as an il­le­gal give­away to the coal in­dus­try that would worsen smog and cli­mate change.

“The fed­eral plan is try­ing to re­verse the progress that Cal­i­for­nia and other states are mak­ing, and to keep the old­est and dirt­i­est power plants in the coun­try on life sup­port,” said Mary Nichols, chair­woman of the Cal­i­for­nia Air Re­sources Board.

The plan is the lat­est in a long se­ries of ef­forts by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­write the na­tion’s cor­ner­stone en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, from the Clean Air Act to the En­dan­gered Species Act.

“This is not just about fight­ing Don­ald Trump,” said Gov. Gavin New­som at a news con­fer­ence in Sacramento Tues­day. “This is about our kids and our grand­kids. This is about clean air, clean water and en­dan­gered species. I’ll say it. I kind of miss Richard Nixon.”

Nixon, a Repub­li­can, signed the Clean Air Act in

1970 and the En­dan­gered Species Act in 1973, and also created the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

In June, the EPA re­leased a se­ries of reg­u­la­tions that EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor An­drew Wheeler, a for­mer coal in­dus­try lob­by­ist, called the “Af­ford­able Clean En­ergy” rule.

The rule es­sen­tially gut­ted a plan put out in 2015 by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that was a cen­ter­piece of Obama’s ef­forts to re­duce smog and green­house gas emis­sions by crack­ing down on ag­ing coal-fired power plants. Of­fi­cials from the coal in­dus­try made over­turn­ing it a top pri­or­ity.

Be­cause of decades of air pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions, Cal­i­for­nia has no coal-fired power plants. It re­lies in­stead on cleaner sources, in­clud­ing nat­u­ral gas, hy­dro­elec­tric dams, so­lar, wind, geo­ther­mal and nu­clear en­ergy to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity for homes and busi­nesses.

A new re­port out Mon­day showed that 52% of Cal­i­for­nia’s elec­tric­ity in 2017 came from sources like so­lar, wind, hy­dropower and nu­clear en­ergy that don’t emit green­house gases.

That trend is driven by nearly 20 years of Cal­i­for­nia laws aimed at re­duc­ing cli­mate change, the most re­cent of which was a law signed last year by for­mer Gov. Jerry Brown re­quir­ing 60% of the state’s elec­tric­ity to come from re­new­able sources by 2030, and 100% to be “car­bon free” by 2045.

Still, Nichols noted that pol­lu­tion from other states’ dirty power plants affects Cal­i­for­nia.

Not only do emis­sions of heat-trap­ping gases like car­bon diox­ide from the burning of fos­sil fu­els like coal con­trib­ute to global warm­ing, she said, they also af­fect the power sup­ply in neigh­bor­ing states, which re­ceive some of their elec­tric­ity from high-volt­age lines that span hun­dreds of miles be­tween states.

“We are part of a re­gion, we are part of a re­gion­wide grid,” she said. “We are part of a na­tional sys­tem.”

Even if it sur­vives the lat­est le­gal chal­lenge, the Trump plan is not likely to save the coal in­dus­try. Coal con­sump­tion in the United States peaked in 2007 and has fallen 39% since then be­cause of com­pe­ti­tion from cheaper nat­u­ral gas, much of it gen­er­ated by frack­ing, and fall­ing prices for so­lar and wind power,

Coal now pro­vides only 27% of U.S. elec­tric­ity, down from 52% in 1997. And the trend is ac­cel­er­at­ing. More coal plants closed dur­ing Trump’s first two years in of­fice than dur­ing Obama’s first four years, ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of En­ergy.

“We see where the world is go­ing, where the fu­ture lies,” New­som said Tues­day. “We are an­tic­i­pat­ing it. We are pre­par­ing for it.”

Join­ing Cal­i­for­nia on Tues­day in the law­suit were Colorado, Con­necti­cut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illi­nois, Maine, Mary­land, Mas­sachusetts, Michi­gan, Min­nesota, New Jersey, New Mex­ico, New York, North Carolina, Ore­gon, Pennsylvan­ia, Rhode Is­land, Ver­mont, Vir­ginia, Wash­ing­ton, Wis­con­sin and the Dis­trict of Columbia.

The EPA on Tues­day de­clined com­ment about the law­suit.

“Their law­suit to­day will ul­ti­mately fail at the Supreme Court,” Patrick Mor­risey, at­tor­ney gen­eral of West Vir­ginia, the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest coal pro­duc­ing state, said in a post on Twit­ter. “The Clean Air Act and the Con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t al­low EPA to serve as a na­tional en­ergy plan­ning au­thor­ity.”

The orig­i­nal Obama plan aimed to re­duce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from power plants by 32% be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030. Obama of­fi­cials de­scribed it as a key tac­tic for the United States to meet its goals un­der the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment of 2015, which Trump an­nounced in 2017 he would be with­draw­ing from.

The Obama plan re­quired states to lower their green­house gas emis­sions by mak­ing older power plants more ef­fi­cient; by build­ing more so­lar, wind and other re­new­able en­ergy sources; by join­ing mul­ti­state ca­pand-trade pro­grams; and by re­plac­ing coal-fired elec­tric­ity with cleaner sources, such as elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated from nat­u­ral gas-fired power plants.

The Obama EPA es­ti­mated the rule would cut smog and re­duce asthma at­tacks in chil­dren and pre­vent 3,600 pre­ma­ture deaths a year from exposure to soot.

But af­ter the plan’s roll­out, 27 states, led by Ok­la­homa, filed a law­suit to over­turn it.

The Supreme Court agreed, and ruled 5-4 in 2016 to temporaril­y halt en­force­ment of the plan while the law­suits played out in lower courts.

Af­ter Trump’s elec­tion, he called the plan “a jobkilling reg­u­la­tion” and ap­pointed for­mer Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. Pruitt be­gan work to over­turn and re­place the plan be­fore he re­signed last year amid con­tro­ver­sies over con­flicts of in­ter­est, fly­ing first class at tax­payer ex­pense and other is­sues. Pruitt be­came a lob­by­ist for the coal in­dus­try af­ter leav­ing of­fice.

When the new Trump plan was fi­nal­ized June 19, the EPA called it a “rea­son­able pro­gram fo­cused on po­ten­tial up­grades to coal plants” that “leaves the mar­ket alone and doesn’t pick win­ners and losers.”

The Trump plan gives states more lee­way to set rules, and fo­cuses most at­ten­tion on im­prov­ing the ef­fi­ciency of in­di­vid­ual power plants, rather than on broader state tar­gets, which will al­low older coal plants to stay open. It re­quires power plant emis­sions to be cut only a small amount — be­tween 0.7% and 1.5% — by 2030.

The states that sued Tues­day in the U.S. Court of Ap­peals, Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit, ar­gued that the Trump plan vi­o­lates the fed­eral Clean Air Act be­cause it does not mean­ing­fully re­duce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, and be­cause it does not use the best avail­able tech­nol­ogy, which the act re­quires.

“Be­cause we’re pre­pared to con­front the cli­mate cri­sis head-on, we’re pre­pared to con­front Pres­i­dent Trump head-on in court,” said Xavier Be­cerra, Cal­i­for­nia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.


Pres­i­dent Trump’s plan gives states lee­way to set rules, fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on im­prov­ing the ef­fi­ciency of in­di­vid­ual power plants.


Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra, left, flanked by Gov. Gavin New­som, dis­cusses the law­suit the state has joined in with 21other Demo­crat-led states on Tues­day.


Smoke rises from a coal-fired power plant in Romeoville, Illi­nois. Pres­i­dent Trump has called for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama’s clean en­ergy plan “a job-killing reg­u­la­tion.”

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