- States will be given flexibility to determine their power generation supply and fossil fuels will remain "a key part of the energy mix," Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at a Wednesday press conference unveiling a replacement for the Clean Power Plan (CPP).
- The move comes as efforts by the Trump Administration to use emergency powers to support coal plants have been sidelined.
- The CPP, finalized in 2015 under President Obama, aimed to set minimum carbon emission standards for power plants, but was stayed by the Supreme Court in 2016. The new plan, dubbed the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, would allow upgrades to older plants for them to continue operating, and advocates say the changes will reduce compliance costs by up to $400 million annually, compared with CPP.
While the Trump Administration has been working on a number of ways to support the coal sector, including by replacing the Clean Power Plan, a Reuters survey last October of 44 utilities that had announced plans to shutter coal plants found none of them expected the ACE rule to change the timing of the retirements.
Even as Wheeler was speaking, groups on both sides began sending news releases and making their arguments.
The National Mining Association applauded the new rule, saying ACE "offers a legal framework to advance the nation's environmental protections while preserving the rightful authority of the states to manage their own unique energy infrastructure and electric grid."
The group said the new rule identifies heat rate improvements as the best system of emission reduction for coal-fired power plants, and limits its requirements to what can be implemented at the source.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is also supporting the new rule, which it said provides "flexibility and certainty while addressing carbon emissions from existing power sources."
"This final rule represents a more flexible path forward that will minimize the cost to consumers and preserve the reliability of the electric grid," NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said in a statement.
Criticism from environmental groups came quickly, as well.
The Sierra Club said the new rule will lead to thousands of deaths annually and cost billions as it eliminates an array of benefits from Obama's Clean Power Plan.
"Trump and Wheeler's Dirty Power Plan throws out some of the most important climate policies our country has ever seen and replaces them with a do-nothing policy that will actually increase pollution at many dirty plants," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
The Center for American Progress said the rule "fails to take action on climate change and would instead increase the pollution that endangers millions of Americans."