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Despite Trump’s more lenient emissions rules, coal industry faces uphill battle

President Trump is keeping a signature pledge to roll back environmental regulations as part of his goal of boosting the coal industry. His new Affordable Clean Energy rule favors incremental improvements and grants discretion to individual states to determine whether their coal-fired power plants require upgrades. Amna Nawaz talks to The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin about what happens next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first, President Trump is keeping a signature pledge to roll back environmental regulations as part of his promise to try boosting the coal industry and other business.

    But, as Amna Nawaz explains, environmentalists say his replacement plan for coal-fired power plants will not make a meaningful difference in stopping the impact of climate change.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the new rule, called Affordable Clean Energy, replaces the Clean Power Plan, a signature climate rule from the Obama administration.

    The Obama rules, which could have led to the closing of older power plants, never took effect after they were challenged in court by more than two dozen states and energy companies.

    The Trump plan allows coal-fired plants to make incremental improvements, rather than major upgrades. And it gives states the power to decide whether upgrades should be required. States will have three years to decide. It, too, will now be challenged in court by a number of states and environmental groups.

    Juliet Eilperin covers this closely for The Washington Post and joins us once again.

    Juliet, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let's start with pointing out what that difference is. What does this new rule change about the old Obama era rules?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    One of the most important things, which you just alluded to, is that it really empowers the states to decide the energy mix for their respective jurisdictions.

    And so rather than setting specific emissions targets, which is what the Obama EPA did, talking about how much reductions you needed to have in carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, this is saying that it's leaving it up to state regulators.

    And, as a result, it's harder to predict this rule will play out in terms of what exact reductions you will get. And you could have states adopting very different strategies in their respective energy markets.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, one of those energy markets specifically is obviously the coal industry, right? The EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said today that the rule will hopefully — quote — "incentivize clean coal."

    This has been sort of a signature promise of President Trump too, but the industry has been in decline. So what do we know about the impact this new rule could have on coal?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    It could keep some aging power — coal-fired power plants operating. That's, again, a real difference between the previous proposal under the Obama administration that really outlined that no existing coal plants could meet the standards of what it was going to set over time.

    So you definitely could have the individual states and individual utilities who can make upgrades and keep coal-fired plants operating from — for longer. And it doesn't compel the kind of fuel switching that was the hallmark of the Obama plan, where you really had a directive from the federal government to switch over to whether it was natural gas, wind, solar, or other forms of energy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Juliet, it's worth pointing out that part of this was meant to bolster the coal industry. That industry has been in decline, though. What can you tell us about that?

  • Juliet Eilperin:


    Certainly, what we have seen is that there's a shrinking amount of demand for coal here in the United States from the energy sector. It does still have demand overseas. And that's really where we have seen a slight uptick.

    What we really seen is that, overall, in the last couple of years, the coal industry has stabilized somewhat, but it's at a fraction of the size that it used to be, and there are no prospects for it to grow in a significant measure, even though it continues to export coal to areas, including China, India, and elsewhere in the world.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Much of the industry was already working towards hitting some of those goals, the rules that the Obama era had set. How does this new rule change their behavior? Does it take them off-track, stop them in their tracks?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    It doesn't really shift the direction dramatically.

    I talked to, for example, folks like the CEO and chairman of DTE Energy, based in Detroit, which is — has really ambitious pledges to cut its carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.

    And he indicated that there's nothing that's going to change. And so what is really interesting is that, at this point, the utility industry as a whole is pretty close to what the Obama goal is for 2030, that they have already — the power sector in the U.S. has cut its emissions 27 percent compared to 2005, and the benchmark under Obama was a 32 percent cut by that year in 2030.

    So they are really on track to make significant cuts. The significant issue is that, when you look at what the science says, and what many analysts calculate, the power sector in the U.S. would have to make much deeper emissions cuts if we are to keep kind of temperatures from exceeding globally 2 degrees Celsius.

    And so that's kind of the — still the outstanding question.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, even those previous limits didn't go quite as far as some environmentalists would have liked.

    It's worth pointing out where this goes from here. We obviously know the rule faces threats of lawsuits, as we mentioned, from attorneys general in a couple of states. What do we think will happen next? Does this just kind of get held up in a legal court battle and never go into effect?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    Well, certainly, there's a court battle that will start very soon. This seems more likely to take effect than the Obama rule, which did have an unconventional approach under the Clean Air Act.

    So I think that the odds are in the EPA's favor in the near term to be able to institute this rule. And then, certainly, it remains a little unclear what will happen, whether it will ultimately be held up in court or not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, thank you so much for your time.

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    Thank you.

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