Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday finalized its rollback of an Obama-era plan to cut harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants, triggering an outcry from opposition Democrats who called it a "giveaway to big polluters."
The reality may be more complex, however, as the US energy mix continues to shift away from coal and toward natural gas, as a result of the fracking boom and its cost advantage, as well as to renewables.
The power sector is expected to have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 13 percent in 2019 compared to 2005 levels, according to official statistics. CO2 output from coal fell a drastic 39 percent between 2005 and 2015.
Trump announced in 2017 his plans to kill the Clean Power Plan that had been introduced two years earlier by then-president Barack Obama but had been put on hold by the Supreme Court.
The Environment Protection Agency has been working since then on its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which had to pass a period of public comment.
"Rather than punishing US production and yielding the marketplace to Chinese coal, which is what the Obama Clean Power plan did, we are leveling the playing field and encouraging innovation and technology across the sector," EPA chief Andrew Wheeler told a press conference.
"Our ACE rule will incentivize new technologies that ensure short coal plants can be part of a cleaner future."
But Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a "stunning giveaway to big polluters, giving dirty special interests the green light to choke our skies, poison our waters and worsen the climate crisis."
"By repealing the historic Clean Power Plan, the Trump Administration has doubled down on their all-out assault on the health and well-being of our children," she said.
The new rule will likely be challenged by Democrat-controlled states and could wind its way up to the Supreme Court.
Beyond Carbon, an activist group that is funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, also slammed the move but said that market forces would prevent a revival of the coal industry.
"The Trump administration's attempts to revive obsolete industries like coal have proven futile: since he has taken office, over 50 coal plants have closed, putting us over halfway to retiring the US coal fleet," the group said.