Trump's Biggest Move to End the 'War on Coal' Won't Rescue the Industry




Trump
Trump's Biggest Move to End the 'War on Coal' Won't Rescue the Industry  

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is scaling back sweeping Obama-era curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants burning coal, his biggest step yet to fulfill his campaign promise to stop a "war" on the fossil fuel.

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency's rewrite of the Clean Power Plan, unveiled Wednesday in Washington, will do little to halt a nationwide shift away from coal and toward cheaper electricity generated by the wind, the sun and natural gas.

The U.S. is experiencing "a wave of coal retirements -- and we don't think we're near the end of it," said Nicholas Steckler, head of U.S. power for BloombergNEF. "Coal is inferior to natural gas in many ways today -- it's less flexible, it's higher cost, even its fuel is generally more expensive, and, of course, it's dirty. It has so many reasons stacked against it."

The EPA's final "Affordable Clean Energy" rule focuses cutting carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging efficiency upgrades at individual power plants, replacing an Obama-era approach of driving wholesale changes to the power sector. The final rule empowers states to develop performance standards for plants based on assumptions about the kind of efficiency gains -- known as heat-rate improvements -- that can be eked out by plugging duct leaks, installing advanced soot blowers and making other upgrades at the sites.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler touted the final regulation at the agency's headquarters in Washington, in front of industry lobbyists, conservative activists and a group of coal miners in hard hats and neon-striped jackets. Wheeler signed the rule flanked by Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, Representative David McKinley, a Republican from coal-rich West Virginia, and other Trump administration officials.

The new rule "will continue our nation's environmental progress, and it will do so legally and with proper respect for the states," without using the "heavy hand" of government, Wheeler said. "These provisions will give states and the private sector the regulatory certainty they need," while encouraging "cleaner and more affordable energy for the American public."

The measure that the Trump administration is replacing -- former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan -- aimed to drive broader changes in the U.S. electric mix and threatened to spur a wave of coal plant closures. That measure compelled states to make systemwide changes in the name of cutting emissions, from bolstering energy efficiency and adding renewables to shutting coal-fired plants altogether and even displacing natural gas.

Environmentalists have vowed to battle Trump's replacement rule in federal court, arguing the EPA is shirking its responsibility to protect public health and the environment. The power plant measure comes as the agency separately moves to ease rules curbing greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and oil wells.

"The EPA should be strengthening the Clean Power Plan, not scrapping it," said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Trump's EPA is implementing a "do-nothing" rule and "blowing off the chance to save thousands of lives every year," he said.

The rule is "an unlawful life-extension program for coal plants masquerading as a climate rule," said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental advocacy group. "The ACE rule simply checks the box of a Trump campaign promise in a futile attempt to save the coal industry by calling for investments in old, dirty coal plants that will run harder and longer, resulting in increased pollution."

The agency had predicted its initial plan would unleash more particulate matter pollution, or soot, and the asthma attacks, respiratory diseases and premature deaths tied to it. The EPA said Wednesday that its final rule is projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 by about 11 million short tons over what would happen without the Clean Power Plan in place.

Industry advocates say the Trump administration is curbing federal government overreach and leveling the playing field.

"It won't necessarily be the saving grace for coal," but "this regulation gives coal a fighting chance," said Nick Loris, an economist with the Heritage Foundation. The EPA is following the rule of law and removing "government-imposed barriers that will lead to increased innovation, competition and efficiency that will ultimately drive down pollution."

The EPA's new approach is rooted in Clean Power Plan foes' arguments that the agency does not have legal authority to regulate emissions beyond the boundaries of existing plants. In some cases, efficiency gains spurred by the new rule could encourage utilities to run their coal power plants more often, undercutting the potential environmental benefits and actually leading to more emissions at the sites

The flexibility for states in the final rule should help stave off premature coal plant closures, said Michelle Bloodworth, president of the American Council for Clean Coal Electricity. "These improvements to coal plant competitiveness will help to increase the longevity of the existing fleet," she said.

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump promised to revive the coal industry and restore mining jobs -- a message that resonated with the working-class voters who helped elect him. In coal-rich West Virginia, a once reliably Democratic state, Trump won 68% of the vote.

The Clean Power Plan rewrite is the Trump administration's most tangible move to deliver on that promise, though the EPA has also proposed lifting a de facto requirement that any new coal power plants be built with expensive carbon-capture technology. The agency also has proposed that limits on mercury pollution from power plants are no longer "appropriate and necessary."

"This is another example of the president doing exactly what he said he would do when he ran for office," Mulvaney said. Not only was Obama's Clean Power Plan "illegal," Mulvaney said, "it's a tax" on Americans.

State regulations are also encouraging utilities to adopt more renewable wind and solar power. At the same time, the lower cost and cleaner-burning profile of natural gas has encouraged a shift toward that fossil fuel.

Power plant owners are unlikely to make dramatic shifts in their plans and portfolios based on the Trump administration policy change, especially given the prospects a new president could reverse course as soon as 2021 and amid competing pressure from state policies, said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Kit Konolige.

"The economics and the desire in many jurisdictions for clean power continue to be the strong drivers of what gets done on the ground," Konolige said.

While states and utilities with a significant amount of coal will have "more flexibility," under the Trump administration approach, "everyone's moving in the direction of eventually eliminating coal plants," he said.

Some 65 gigawatts of coal-fired electric generating capacity have gone offline since 2011 -- with another 41 gigawatts pending retirement and 105 gigawatts at risk of closure, according to BloombergNEF.

The Clean Power Plan never actually went into effect, having been halted by the Supreme Court in February 2016. Even without it, the U.S. is on track to meet its original goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 32% from 2005 levels by 2030, BNEF's Steckler said.

For now, the Trump administration is jettisoning a separate plan that would have made it easier for companies to modernize power plants without triggering requirements for costly pollution control systems. That change will come later, as the EPA works to overhaul its so-called New Source Review program governing pollution controls at power plants and industrial facilities.

(Michael R. Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, financially supports the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which seeks to retire U.S. coal-fired plants.)

(Updates with Wheeler comment and EPA event starting in second paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer A. Dlouhy in Washington at jdlouhy1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net, Elizabeth Wasserman

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Voice Of America Ignores Reasons For Trump
Voice Of America Ignores Reasons For Trump's Criticism Of Rep. Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar, but failed to include most of the reasons for the criticism.VOA wrote "Trump has found his latest target for acerbic ridicule - a hijab-wearing Muslim newcomer to Congress named Ilhan Omar."The news agency mentioned briefly only two instances of Omar's anti-Semitic remarks, referring to one as playing "off tropes questioning the influence of Jewish money in American politics."Trump began tweeting Sunday about how the "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen…should go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it's done."The tweets were likely aimed at Democratic Reps. Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New...

Appeals court upholds Trump move to drop mine pollution rule
Appeals court upholds Trump move to drop mine pollution rule
  • US
  • 2019-07-19 22:54:49Z

A U.S. appeals court panel has sided with the Trump administration, ruling that state and federal programs already in place ensure that mining companies take financial responsibility for future pollution cleanups. The ruling Friday came after the administration was sued by environmental groups for dropping an Obama-era proposal that would have required the companies to prove they have resources to clean up pollution.

Trump renews attacks on Democratic congresswoman Omar
Trump renews attacks on Democratic congresswoman Omar
  • US
  • 2019-07-19 18:40:58Z

Somali-born U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar is "lucky to be where she is," President Donald Trump said on Friday, pressing on with attacks on four minority women Democratic U.S. representatives he has said should "go back" to where they came from. Trump on Thursday sought to distance himself from supporters' chants of "send her back" at a rally where he blasted Omar, as his fellow Republicans worried the sharp rhetoric might become a theme of his 2020 re-election campaign. "I'm unhappy when a congresswoman goes and says: 'I'm going to be the president's nightmare,'" Trump told reporter at the White House on Friday.

U.S. intelligence chief creates election security position
U.S. intelligence chief creates election security position

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump for assessments that countered his policies, said on Friday he was creating a new position to focus solely on U.S. election security. "Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority for the IC (international community)," Coats said in a statement. Coats said he had tapped Shelby Pierson, the DNI's crisis manager for election security during the 2018 congressional elections, for the job.

Brazil
Brazil's Petrobras refuses to refuel Iran ships due to US sanctions

US-listed Brazilian state oil giant Petrobras said Friday it will not refuel two Iranian vessels that have been stuck for weeks at a Brazilian port for fear of violating American sanctions. Washington has imposed a slate of sanctions on Tehran and companies with ties to the Islamic republic since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark nuclear pact last year. The ships Bavand and Termeh, which reportedly belong to Iranian company Sapid Shipping, arrived at Paranagua port in the southern state of Parana early last month, an official at the port told AFP.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Economy

facebook
Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.