Trump and Pruitt Keep Chipping Away at the Clean Air Act
Donald Trump is messing with our air quality again. Last week Trump signed an executive order giving the EPA a mandate to review the Clean Power Plan, or CPP, with an eye toward rescinding it. The EPA’s first move? Stripping away proposed regulatory requirements intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants.
Those regulations, part of the Clean Power Plan, an offshoot of the 1963 Clean Air Act, were put in place by the EPA in October 2015 as part of President Barack Obama’s agenda to curb U.S. carbon emissions.
By withdrawing the proposed regulations, the new administration is methodically chipping away at the Clean Air Act, this time under the guise of creating jobs along with “energy independence, economic growth and the rule of the law.”
So, what does all of this mean for public health? It means the coal industry has won a new battle in the war on clean air.
“Trump’s trying to undo more than a decade of progress in fighting climate change and protecting public health,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg.
To get power plant owners to buy into the changes, the EPA issued a proposed rule last June, letting states design their own incentives to reduce carbon emissions. But the EPA never finalized the two proposed rules. So, erasing them was an easy change for the Trump EPA under Administrator E. Scott Pruitt, who wants to eliminate the agency.
The Clean Power Plan was designed to limit air pollution from new sources—those added in 2015 and beyond—in specific categories that cause or contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. This is known as the New Source Rule, which set “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units.” You can read the 2015 plan here and the proposed changes here.
More than two dozen states filed lawsuits aimed at stopping the Obama era cap on carbon emissions from new sources. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the New Source Rule in February 2016.
Two court challenges are currently pending in the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. One case is North Dakota v. EPA. North Dakota’s energy generation is heavily tied to coal. In 2016, about 71% of its net electricity generation came from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The second court case is led by West Virginia, where coal-fired power plants account for about 90% electricity generation, Energy Administration data show.
The Clean Power Plan’s overarching goal was a 32% cut in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity plants by 2030. As part of the regulations, companies would have been required to disclose which chemicals were being pumped underground.