Trump EPA acts to roll back rule on cli­mate-chang­ing coal


WASH­ING­TON — The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency acted again Thurs­day to ease rules on the sag­ging U.S. coal in­dus­try, this time scal­ing back what would have been a tough control on cli­mate-chang­ing emis­sions from any new coal plants.

The lat­est Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion tar­get­ing of legacy Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­forts to slow cli­mate change comes in the wake of mul­ti­ply­ing warn­ings from the agency’s sci­en­tists and oth­ers about the ac­cel­er­at­ing pace of global warm­ing.

In a cer­e­mony Thurs­day at the agency, act­ing EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor An­drew Wheeler signed a pro­posal to dis­man­tle a 2015 rule that any new coal power plants in­clude cut­ting-edge tech­niques to cap­ture the car­bon diox­ide from their smoke­stacks.

Wheeler called the Obama rules “ex­ces­sive bur­dens” for the coal in­dus­try.

“This ad­min­is­tra­tion cares about ac­tion and re­sults, not talks and wish­ful think­ing,” Wheeler said.

Asked about the harm that coal plant emis­sion do peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment, Wheeler re­sponded, “Hav­ing cheap elec­tric­ity helps hu­man health.”

Janet McCabe, an EPA air of­fi­cial un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, and oth­ers chal­lenged that. MaCabe in a state­ment cited the con­clu­sion of the EPA’s own staff ear­lier this year that pend­ing roll­backs on ex­ist­ing coal plants would cause thou­sands of early deaths from the fine soot and dan­ger­ous par­ti­cles and gases.

The EPA was “turn­ing its back on its re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect hu­man health,” McCabe said Thurs­day.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, sci­en­tists and law­mak­ers were scathing, say­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was un­der­min­ing what they said should be ur­gent ef­forts to slow cli­mate change.

The EPA and 12 other fed­eral agen­cies late last month warned

that cli­mate change caused by burn­ing coal, oil and gas al­ready was wors­en­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in the United States. It would cause hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in dam­age each year by the end of the cen­tury, the gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment said.

“This pro­posal is an­other il­le­gal at­tempt by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to prop up an in­dus­try al­ready buck­ling un­der the pow­er­ful force of the free mar­ket,” Sen. Shel­don White­house, a Rhode Is­land Demo­crat and mem­ber of the Se­nate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment.

“Did the EPA even read the Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment?” White­house asked.

It’s un­clear whether the new pol­icy boost will over­come mar­ket forces that are mak­ing U.S. coal plants ever more un­prof­itable.

Com­pe­ti­tion from cleaner, cheaper nat­u­ral gas and other ri­val forms of en­ergy has driven down coal use in the United States to its low­est level since 1979, the En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion said this week. This year will see the sec­ond-great­est num­ber of U.S. clos­ings of coal-fired power plants on record.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, a Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, said the EPA’s ac­tion Thurs­day was “tar­get­ing an­other reg­u­la­tion that would have made it nearly im­pos­si­ble to build any new plants.”

Cit­ing that and other Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion moves to tamp down emis­sions from coal-fired power plants in the na­tional elec­tri­cal grid, McCon­nell called the pro­posal “a cru­cial step to­ward un­do­ing the dam­age and putting coal back on a level play­ing field.”

Other Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ini­tia­tives rolling aback cli­mate change ef­forts would undo an Obama plan in­tended to shift the na­tional elec­tri­cal grid away from coal and to­ward cleaner-burn­ing so­lar and wind power, and would re­lax pend­ing tougher mileage stan­dards for cars and light trucks.

Jay Duffy, a lawyer with the Clean Air Task Force en­vi­ron­men­tal non­profit, called the level-play­ing field ar­gu­ment of the ad­min­is­tra­tion and its sup­port­ers “laugh­able.”

“In ev­ery rule­mak­ing, they’re plac­ing their thumbs on the scale to prop up coal, at the ex­pense of pub­lic health and the en­vi­ron­ment,” Duffy said.

Speak­ing along­side Wheeler at a news con­fer­ence, Michelle Blood­worth of the coal in­dus­try group Amer­ica’s Power con­tended the new roll­back could throw a life­line to do­mes­tic coal-fired power pro­duc­ers.

“It does ap­pear that this pro­posal would make it fea­si­ble for new coal plants” to be built, Blood­worth said.

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