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How Trump’s rules on coal-fired power plants differ from Obama’s

The Trump administration unveiled its plan to reverse President Obama's coal pollution rules. The new EPA proposal, called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, would give states leeway on whether to limit emissions and by how much, and allow older power plants to operate longer. Yamiche Alcindor reports, and Judy Woodruff discusses the potential impact with Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Trump administration today rolled out new rules that would reverse course to a cornerstone of the Obama agenda, regulating emissions from coal-burning power plants.

    Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage with this report that she filed from coal country in West Virginia.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The new rule would give states wide leeway on whether to limit emissions and by how much. That includes allowing older power plants to operate longer.

    The proposal, called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, would replace Obama era regulations. Those rules aggressively pushed for accelerated closures of older coal-fired plants by setting national targets, by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and encouraging adoption of cleaner energies, such as solar and wind power.

    The rules have never taken effect because of legal challenges from 27 states.

    In a phone call with reporters this morning, Andrew Wheeler, the acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said the new rule would lead to more affordable energy bills for consumers. He also called the efforts from the Obama administration an overreach of EPA's authority.

  • Andrew Wheeler:

    The era of top-down, one-size-fits-all federal mandates is over. We will give states and the private sector the regulatory certainty they need to invest in new technologies and provides clean, affordable and reliable energy for all Americans.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The Trump rule would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 1 percent, compared to no regulation. But that's a big difference from the benefits President Obama cited when he rolled out his plan in 2015.

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    With this Clean Power Plan, by 2030, carbon pollution from our power plants will be 32 percent lower than it was a decade ago. We will reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions by nearly 90 percent. And thanks to this plan, there will be 90,000 fewer asthma attacks among our children each year.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The Obama era rule has always drawn criticism from coal industry and many communities like this one that have traditionally relied on coal to create jobs and support the local economy.

    In West Virginia, where President Trump is holding a rally tonight, we talked to voters about today's announcement.

  • Ruth Preece:

    There was no jobs with those regulations. I mean, I'm all for the environment, but there is a right way and a wrong way. You don't do a blanket approach to something.

  • Denise Sammons:

    Where I live, in Mingo County, we're in the heart of the billion-dollar coal field, and literally people were moving out of the state of West Virginia because we had no jobs.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Democrats attacked the proposal today. And environmental groups quickly condemned today's proposed change.

    In a statement, the National Resources Defense Council said, "Trump's EPA is abandoning any attempt to curb the carbon pollution that's driving damaging climate change. This proposal violates the law and cooks the books on science and economics, all to prop up coal power plants that can't compete with cleaner energy."

    As the Obama era regulations were, these new rules are expected to be challenged in court.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor in Charleston, West Virginia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For a closer look at these changes and the potential impact, I'm joined by Juliet Eilperin, who covers this closely for The Washington Post.

    Juliet Eilperin, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Again, just to clarify, the regulations the Trump administration is rolling back from the Obama administration had never really taken effect?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    Right. There had been — they had been stayed by the Supreme Court, because more than two dozen attorneys general from Republican states and the industry had challenged EPA's authority to impose such sweeping limits beyond the plants themselves.

    And so as a result, they have not taken effect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is it about the Obama era regulations that the Trump administration so objects to?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    So the biggest argument they made against those rules was the idea that they applied not just to the operations of the power plants themselves, but they went beyond the fence line.

    What that meant is that they said to states, look, we want you the meet these emission targets, and by doing that, you can encourage energy efficiency, you can promote the development and deployment of natural gas plants and renewable energy projects, and those are all ways that you can reduce carbon emissions.

    And, essentially, the opponents of that rule said, no, that's not what's really allowed under the Clean Air Act. And all you can do is make the existing plants more efficient, which is what this new proposal does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about the practical consequences of this? What do we look for?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    So, there are a couple of things.

    When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, it will slow the decline of carbon dioxide cuts over time. The Obama rule would have done slightly more, although we do see the power sector getting cleaner over time, in part because of cheaper natural gas and renewable energy.

    In terms of the public health impacts, that's where you are certainly going to see a difference, because one thing that the Trump administration is now proposing is that utilities that want to make their existing coal-fired plants more efficient can make those upgrades without installing the kind of pollution controls on traditional pollutants that normally are required under the Clean Air Act.

    So emissions of soot — those are fine particle — and smog-forming pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, could potentially increase over time. The Trump EPA estimates that, by 2030, there will be an additional, for example, between 470 and 1,400 deaths a year as a result of an uptick in those traditional pollutants.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how does the Trump administration explain that? How do they defend that decision?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    So their argument is that this rule is about carbon dioxide and not those other pollutants, and they're adhering to the law and focusing on greenhouse gas emissions, and that they have other methods of controlling those emissions, so potentially they could, you know, address it in another capacity.

    What they're saying is that they want to make these plants more efficient, and, by definition, if they're going to do that and not impose an additional regulatory burden on these plants, they wanted to make it easier to do these upgrades, and as a result, they're not — they're changing the kind of current requirements that exist under federal law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Who is happy about this decision, Juliet?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    So, utilities for the most part say that they're happy about it, that this is — that while they still face a number of market pressures and they will be, you know, for example, changing their fuel mix over time, this gives them breathing room if they want to keep some of these older plants in operation.

    Certainly, you see Republicans, the vast majority of Republicans, both in Congress and on the state level, including many of these attorneys general I mentioned that had been suing, they are welcoming this. So from those two camps, you have a significant amount of support, who say that this will give them more flexibility and is something that will help them economically.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, clearly, the environmental community and others not happy with this decision.

    What about court challenges going forward? What do you expect?

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    So, we absolutely expect a court challenge from essentially the same groups that were defending the Obama era rule. So that would be environmental groups, as you mentioned, as well as a slew of Democratic attorneys general.

    We have already gotten indications that, whether it's from California or Massachusetts, they're already preparing a legal challenge, arguing that many of these changes violate the Clean Air Act, because the federal government is not — is basically delegating too much authority to the states, and that it needs to be stricter in terms of the emissions reductions it's requiring.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, thank you.

  • Juliet Eilperin:

    Thanks so much.

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