Trump Begins Repeal of Obama Power Plant Emission Cuts

  • EPA is poised to argue Clean Power Plan exceeds legal limits
  • Public will be invited to offer ideas for replacement rule

EPA Ready to Eliminate Obama's Power Plant Rule

The Trump administration will propose repealing former President Barack Obama’s signature plan for combating climate change by asserting that its expansive approach to addressing carbon emissions exceeds legal limits, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.

The Environmental Protection Agency will also issue a formal request for the public to offer ideas for a replacement to the Clean Power Plan that could be more modest in scope, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the proposal is still under review at the White House.

The proposed repeal could be released this week or next, they said. An advanced notice of formal rulemaking, which may come later, isn’t slated to outline a specific replacement plan, though the administration is setting the stage for a new regulation that focuses on emissions from individual power plants, rather than the broader model adopted under Obama.

Follow the Trump Administration’s Every Move

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to scrap the Clean Power Plan, and his environmental chief, Scott Pruitt, went to court to challenge the rule in his previous job as Oklahoma’s attorney general. The rule was seen as critical for the U.S. to comply with its Paris climate agreement commitment, but Trump has moved to exit that global accord.

The Clean Power Plan was designed to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 but never took effect. The U.S. Supreme Court put the initiative on hold in February 2016 at the request of some of the more than two dozen states suing to overturn the rule. 

The Clean Power Plan dictated specific carbon-cutting targets for states based on a complex formula tied to their emissions from power plants in 2012. It then gave state leaders broad latitude to come up with plans to achieve those reductions. By design it imposed uneven burdens on states, with those relying on coal-fired power facing a bigger imposition than states that have embraced wind and solar power.

Read More: Trump to Exit Climate Pact as Allies Deride Call for Do-Over

Obama’s EPA opted for a more holistic approach instead of the more conventional tactic of imposing specific limits on individual power plants, arguing it would be more flexible and cost effective. Limiting the regulation to what each plant could achieve by improving efficiency and installing more emissions controls might result in diminished reductions of greenhouse gases.

That novel approach -- regulating emissions by going beyond power plants themselves -- has drawn criticism from some states, coal industry leaders and conservatives who argue it ran afoul of the Clean Air Act and would encourage utilities to jettison coal-fired power plants.

Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, offered a different, "inside-the-fenceline" approach for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from generating electricity in 2014. His Oklahoma plan would have directed power plant owners to improve efficiency at the sites.

Several power generators have implored the Trump administration to offer a replacement regulation instead of just repealing the Clean Power Plan, arguing that the resulting policy vacuum would create too much uncertainty for their businesses.

For instance, the Coalition for Innovative Climate Solutions, which represents electric generating companies, has asked administration officials for a replacement rule that would provide "regulatory certainty" and "accommodate the broad diversity in state" energy portfolios.

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has been vetting the EPA’s repeal proposal since June.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.