Science Policy & Funding News

EPA Proposes Repealing Its Own Obama Era Clean Power Plan

The action of the agency, now realigned by the Trump administration, “just begins the battle,” according to environmentalists and others who plan to challenge EPA’s proposed repeal of the rule.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday formally announced its intent to repeal carbon pollution emission guidelines for power plants, which the agency had issued in October 2015 as a signature effort by the Obama administration to fight climate change.

The Clean Power Plan (CPP), which has been tied up in the courts, “exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority,” according to the repeal notice signed Tuesday by the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt.

“We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate,” Pruitt said in a statement. “We can now assess whether further regulatory action is warranted; and, if so, what is the most appropriate path forward consistent with the Clean Air Act and principles of cooperative federalism.” That could mean issuing a new, revised rule. The repeal notice states that the agency is considering the scope of such a rule under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing electric utility generating units and will issue a proposed rulemaking notice “in the near future.”

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt signs the notice to propose repealing the Clean Power Plan.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt signing the notice to propose repealing the Clean Power Plan. Credit: EPA

EPA stated that the CPP “was premised on a novel and expansive view of agency authority” and that the proposed new rule would return the agency’s actions to an understanding that the “best system of emission reduction” for a source “should be based only on measures that can be applied to or at the source” rather than a utility taking measures such as replacing coal plants with other sources of energy “outside the fence line.”

Challenges in Store

EPA’s planned repeal of the CPP, which Pruitt previewed on 9 October in a speech to coal miners in Hazard, Ky., helps to fulfill a March 2017 White House executive order to review the CPP. However, EPA’s action drew swift condemnation from environmental groups, scientists, and others.

“What we have is a Clean Power Plan. What we’re getting is a dirty power plan,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group based in New York, during a 10 October telephone briefing hosted by NRDC. The CPP set standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030.

In a blog post, Doniger wrote that the repeal of the CPP “just begins the battle. Pruitt’s EPA must hold hearings and take public comment, and issue a final repeal―with or without a possible replacement. He must respond to all legal, scientific, and economic objections raised, including the issues we lay out [in this blog post]. Then we will take Pruitt and his Dirty Power Plan to court.”

Climate modeler Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told Eos that the main impact of EPA’s proposed repeal of the CPP will be dithering at the federal level and “more years of tedious litigation while the people on the ground (states, utilities, car manufacturers, renewable developers) get on with reducing emissions.”

Susan Joy Hassol, director of Climate Communication, told Eos that “Pruitt blames the [CPP] rule for coal’s decline, apparently not realizing that the rule never took effect. Instead, coal declined as it was out-competed in the marketplace by cheaper natural gas and renewables.”

“Cooking the Books”

The agency, in a 10 October press release, also estimates that repealing the CPP “could provide up to $33 billion in avoided compliance costs in 2030,” with additional savings in prior years. In addition, the release states that the Obama administration’s “estimates and analysis of these costs and benefits was, in multiple areas, highly uncertain and/or controversial.”

That $33 billion number is sharply different from the Obama administration’s analysis that CPP compliance costs are $8.4 billion, whereas public health and climate benefits are about $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030. Environmentalists disputed the new numbers. NRDC policy analysts Kevin Steinberger and Starla Yeh state in a 10 October blog post that EPA under Pruitt “cooks the books to inflate the costs of the rule and hide its climate and public health benefits.”

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted, “The EPA can repeal the Clean Power Plan but not the laws of economics. This won’t revive coal or stop the US from reaching our Paris goal.”

Industry Response

Some coal industry groups gave a welcome to EPA’s announcement. Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, said in a statement that the CPP “represented an unlawful attempt to transform the nation’s power grid.” He said the CPP would leave the economy “more vulnerable to reliability concerns and higher costs with trivial environmental benefits” and that repealing the plan will safeguard mining jobs. “A far better approach to achieving environmental improvement will rely on sound legal rules and proven technologies that can sustain the impressive reductions in emissions achieved over the past decades,” he said.

In a 10 October phone briefing with reporters, Chip Roy, director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Action at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, argued that carbon dioxide is not by definition pollution. “Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by some, and claims of the sky falling and a massive increase of pollution, [repeal of the CPP] will not increase pollution,” said Roy, whose organization has a mission, as stated on the foundation’s website, that includes promoting and defending liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise. Roy added that repeal of the rule doesn’t affect other clean air regulations and that the CPP would “strangle” the U.S. economy for “negligible, statistically insignificant gains supposedly in overall global warming temperatures.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), EPA proposes repealing its own Obama era Clean Power Plan, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO084727. Published on 11 October 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0