A Power Plan No More: Trump Team Slaps Down Progress, Clears Way for Dirty Air

August 21, 2018 | 10:25 am
Photo: Steve Tatum/Flickr
Julie McNamara
Senior Energy Analyst

Today, with the legal system pinning its back on the ropes, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new proposed rule for power plant carbon pollution standards.

Or perhaps more accurately, EPA proposed a new version of an old rule, as the content retreads that which the agency already finalized three years ago, previewed four years ago, was directed to pursue five years ago, and solidified the obligation to create nearly ten years ago.

But history, learning, progress—what’s that? For this administration, the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of those who came before; to reach higher, stretch further; to learn and evolve and grow—to all of that, the Trump Administration spat out a surly no.

And so today what we get instead are our public health protectors turning their backs on the future, on science, on us. Craven in the face of the real and true climate crisis at hand, these leaders took an opportunity to deliver forward progress and delivered a postcard from the past instead, full of old assumptions, shameless exemptions, and out-and-out deceit.

Be incredulous.

Get upset.

Then, demand more.

Because these are our purported leaders yanking us right in reverse, exactly at a time when the real path forward could not be clearer—we’ve gathered all the tools around us needed to succeed, and heard all the devastating calls to action we can bear.

We had a plan. It wasn’t enough, but it was a start, and we had a plan. Today, we have a power plan no more.

From landmark to off the mark in ½ an administration flat

In August 2015, following years of robust rulemaking on top of years of painstakingly constructed motivating frameworks, the Obama Administration’s EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan.

This was a landmark rule by all accounts. It carefully navigated the particularities of the nation’s integrated power system, giving states wide flexibility to achieve gains where best they could, while balancing that latitude against the guiding hand of public health protections. The rule underwent record levels of stakeholder engagement, evolving and improving over time as it incorporated diverse input, and its underlying framework allowed room to be improved further still in the face of future change.

What’s more, contrary to polluter cries of  “unachievable” and “a threat to grid reliability,” the Clean Power Plan was in fact conservative in the face of historic power sector change, rendered nearly out of date before it ever went live.

Because by the close of 2017—years before the first compliance deadline ever came to pass; before, even, the rule ever actually got underway—the nation’s power sector had already reduced its carbon dioxide emissions 28 percent compared to 2005 levels—well along the way to the 32 percent by 2030 requirement the Clean Power Plan had originally had in store.

Of course, that’s at the national level. Across the country, different states are at different points in the transition, and that’s where the Clean Power Plan’s true value came in: charting a course forward for laggards, too, to ensure cleaner air would be available to all.

But the Clean Power Plan is not our nation’s power plan anymore.

Even though it was eminently achievable.

Even though people, real people, will be hurt because of this public health rollback.

Even though the only way to justify this change was for the agency’s new analysis to farcically rule out large swaths of what can be counted as a benefit, and amp up what gets considered as a cost. And even then still only because the agency recognized that coal plants would need a further boost, so gave them permission to pollute far more by amending requirements for New Source Review.

And still beyond that, beyond all of that, what’s most jarring is the fact that in issuing this proposed rule, the Trump Administration is tacitly acknowledging that climate change is real and human-caused, as it’s still abiding by the agency’s 2009 Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings, the foundational framework that ultimately resulted in the Clean Power Plan. And that means that EPA acknowledges it has a responsibility to act.

Which brings us to this: If you acknowledge a responsibility to act, and you deliver a proposal that could increase emissions instead, then just who is it you’re working to protect?

Because stunningly few will be better off under this rule, and heaven help the rest.

We’ll win—But that’s not good enough

The Union of Concerned Scientists will be actively engaged in this rulemaking process, joining with others to issue a deep and forceful rejection of the cynical and capricious proposal at hand. And when the inevitable day in court arrives, the law will be on our side.

But that doesn’t help people struggling today:

  • Coal plants are closing today. New coal plants are not being built. What coal workers and coal communities need is real and true support; a committed path to the future, not dangling distractions in the face of wholesale change.
  • Coal-fired power plant pollution is devastating public health today. Public health and environmental wreckage do not improve simply because you’ve stopped counting or considering all that they are forced to bear.
  • Climate change impacts are being felt today, and growing worse every day. Heat illness, wildfires, flooding—it’s happening, and communities are paying the price. Acknowledging the responsibility to act and then doing anything but is as gutless as it gets.

What we need is a plan. We need leaders willing to lead, and we need a plan.

But with this new proposal, we did not get leaders, and we lost our power plan.