The White House has released its long-anticipated rule proposal to replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. As expected, the administration’s plan fails to recognize the reality of a national power sector that is fast transitioning to clean power.
Due to litigation battles that prompted the Supreme Court to put it on hold in February 2016, the Clean Power Plan has never been put fully into effect. Had it been, it might have sparked a major boost in the adoption of utility-scale wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass power additions – as well as energy efficiency programs – to meet the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission-reduction targets agreed to by virtually all nations under the Paris Climate Agreement in late 2015.
The Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) proposal would require only modest improvements at some coal plants and give states greater flexibility in reducing power plant emissions, allowing them to set their own standards. It also gives some plant operators the ability to opt out altogether.
By some calculations, the Clean Power Plan would eliminate more than 12 times the carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions that the ACE proposal is projected to stem.
EPA says it hopes to have the ACE plan, which will undergo a 60-day public comment period, implemented in early 2019. The proposal is expected to face extensive legal challenges from at least two dozen states that had supported the Clean Power Plan, and from environmental and clean energy groups.
The ACE plan is another of several White House efforts to boost the coal power sector, following through on a vow made by Trump on the campaign trail. The White House proposal would likely elongate the life of GHG-emitting coal plants that would otherwise face closure by power generators seeking to reduce their emissions through the adoption of lower-cost, low-carbon (natural gas and biomass) and no-carbon (wind and solar) options as well as energy efficiency measures.
The ACE rule follows a failed DOE proposal last year to essentially subsidize money-losing coal-fueled and nuclear-fueled power plants. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) made the decision last January to reject the administration’s effort, ostensibly to ensure grid reliability, to mandate utility purchases of “baseload” power like coal and nuclear. This attempt came despite a 2017 DOE study that clearly showed that a growing number of coal plant closures posed no threat to reliability. The report noted that the falling number of coal plants was attributable primarily to the ongoing and dramatic drop in the price of wind and solar, less expensive natural gas, flatlining energy demand and significant increases in net generation capacity since 2002.
The ACE proposal relies on cost/benefit calculations that are questionable at best. EPA is downplaying the savings residential and commercial ratepayers are gaining from cheaper, cleaner energy sources and more efficient energy use. By allowing the release of significantly more emissions than the Clean Power Plan, the ACE rule will also result in greater health costs, as well as more premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and missed work and school days.
Not surprisingly, administration officials are narrowing the criteria for determining costs and benefits, ignoring the fact that emissions are a global issue and instead choosing to focus the impact of their ACE proposal on domestic emissions. In an effort to make their proposal more palatable and less vulnerable in court, officials now are using the limited criteria to make the case that the Clean Power Plan would cost more and offer fewer benefits than claimed.
Solutions from the Land urges stakeholders to use the upcoming comment period to tell the administration not to walk back from the course this country has taken towards cleaner, more sustainable power generation. Furthermore, lawmakers, regulators and others in Washington should be called upon to recognize that renewable energy, energy storage, efficiency and, in the agriculture sector, land, livestock and forest management practices, are the 21st-century means to inexpensively and sustainably achieve emissions reductions, system reliability, and the cleaner air and environment the nation deserves.