On Tuesday, President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan that will undermine climate protections, air quality and rural development opportunities. The so-called “Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule” will replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule unveiled in 2015 to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. President Trump’s new plan is weak on climate protections and is nothing more than a short-sighted attempt to prop up the coal industry.
The ACE rule sets much more modest climate goals and gives states more leeway to meet them, even providing an option for states to opt out of doing anything at all. In terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, the ACE rule is projected to reduce CO2 emissions between .7 and 1.5 percent relative to 2005 levels – 12 times less than the Clean Power Plan. Depending on how states choose to implement the plan, it could result in more pollution than if there were no policy at all. The rule is estimated to affect 600 coal-fired electric generating units at 300 facilities. While the Clean Power Plan would have led to the retirement of many of these coal plants, the ACE rule will likely cause many of them to remain in operation rather than transitioning toward cleaner energy.
The Trump administration has defended the new plan by underestimating environmental and public health considerations. In addition to being the largest emitter of CO2 in the country, coal plants are also leading sources of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain; nitrogen oxide (another GHG), which causes ozone and smog; particulate matter, which causes respiratory illness; and mercury, which is a toxic heavy metal. The ACE rule would cut sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 1 to 2 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which pales in comparison to the Clean Power Plan’s estimated 24 percent reduction in these pollutants.
From a human health perspective, the ACE rule could add billions of dollars in new health costs to address the heart disease, lung disease and asthma caused by increased pollution. These impacts could also lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually. And, when accounting for the fact that power plants are located predominantly in poor, minority and rural communities, these health impacts will disproportionately hit already underserved communities.
Rural communities stand to lose economically from the ACE rule as well. IATP has documented the benefits that the Clean Power Plan could have had in rural America, but the ACE rule eliminates these potential gains. Clean energy jobs are on the rise, and since most large-scale wind and solar developments are in rural areas, these jobs are an investment in rural America. The latest reporting from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that there are more than 250,000 jobs in the U.S. solar industry and more than 100,000 jobs in the U.S. wind industry. At a press conference Tuesday to oppose the ACE rule, Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) said, “In 2020, we will have 500,000 people working in wind and solar in the United States.” In comparison, the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns program estimates that the coal industry employed 76,512 people in the U.S. in 2014. The ACE rule does nothing to support the growing clean energy economy, nor does it support a just transition for coal communities and workers.
The coal industry is in trouble regardless of federal policy. Profits have declined in recent years due to a glut of cheap natural gas from the fracking boom and the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy technologies. When the mounting risks of climate change and their associated costs are factored in, coal production is not cost competitive with cleaner energy sources. Federal regulation aside, coal has dropped from roughly 50 percent of our nation’s energy in 2008 to 30 percent in 2017. At Tuesday’s press conference, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said, “You cannot make coal fired generation profitable today.” President Trump’s new plan won’t reverse this trend.
Many states are moving ahead with clean energy goals, regardless of the ACE rule. By the end of Tuesday, leaders of environmental and energy agencies from 14 states had already released a joint statement opposing the rule. At Tuesday’s press conference, Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) said, “Protecting clean air was once a bipartisan goal.”