Trump’s Replacement Clean Power Plan Underscores Need for State Leadership

On Tuesday, the Trump administration revealed its replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP). Dubbed the ‘Dirty Power Plan’ by opponents, it significantly sets back existing efforts and provides a financial boon to coal plants. This is the latest in a persistent effort by Trump to undermine national efforts to combat climate change.

Although not significantly impacting Massachusetts power plants, the move underscores the need for greater state leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

History of the CPP

The Clean Air Act of 1963 established a legal responsibility for the national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate pollutants it found to be harmful to human health and welfare. In a landmark decision in 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide fell within this legal requirement. Subsequent years of EPA-backed scientific research, coupled with the Supreme Court ruling, firmly established the legal obligation and authority to for the EPA to issue standards reducing emissions from sources that included vehicles and power plants.

Accordingly, in 2015 the the EPA released its first legal standard in the form of the CPP, directed at cutting emissions from the electricity sector. The EPA estimated that the standard would reduce emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, providing an important first step in addressing national power plant emissions. Additionally, EPA cost-benefit analyses consistently demonstrated net economic gain from the CPP, and decreased deaths from coal-related pollutants.

Repealing the CPP

With the election of Donald Trump, the policy of the White House and the EPA shifted away from reducing emissions, and towards boosting coal production. This is despite the long-term decline of the coal industry, due to cheaper, cleaner, and more abundant fuel and energy sources, such as renewables. Additionally, the shift in federal policy towards promoting coal does little to create jobs in a heavily automated industry where fewer miners are needed.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday Trump unveiled his replacement of the CPP. The plan allows states to decide their own emission-reductions targets, and includes a loophole that lets them establish none at all. The EPA’s own analysis concludes that consumer electricity prices would drop by at most 0.2% by 2035, while the percentage of energy produced by coal would increase by 9.5%.

Whereas the CPP would have reduced national emissions by 19% between 2016 and 2030 (from 2005 levels), the Trump replacement plan would only see reductions of 0.7-1.5% in the same period. The administration’s own plan freely admits that the amount of mercury and fine particulate matter would rise due to increased coal use. Further, the administration states this will lead to ‘only’ an additional 1,400 premature deaths by 2030.

One of Many

The replacement of the CPP isn’t the only example of Trump’s disregard for climate change. One of his first acts as President was to withdraw the US from the Paris Accords, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And just a few weeks ago, the EPA announced its intent to move forward with regulatory rollback of Obama-era clean car standards, despite proof of their economic benefit.

Next Steps

The Trump administration’s proposal will likely face lawsuits, which will drag out final implementation for years. Donald Trump would probably need to win re-election to be able to see his anti-environmental agenda come to fruition. Even if this doesn’t happen, and a President is elected that takes us back to pre-Trump era of climate action, the US will still have been set back years in implementing a solution.

In the interim, state’s need to take the lead in reducing emissions. About nine states, including Massachusetts and California, currently have stricter power plant regulations than those proposed under the CPP. More states need to join in reducing electricity sector emissions through methods like binding targets, increased support for renewables, and regional greenhouse gas agreements like RGGI.

Climate change will not wait for us to bicker over which level of federal government should to take action, it will just continue until we gain the will to stop it.