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Trump administration rolls back Obama-era EPA plan that targeted coal plants

Some states are already planning to challenge

Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Trump administration has officially finalized its rollback of an Obama-era policy that would have targeted coal plants and mandated strict reductions in carbon emissions.

What's the background?

In 2015, former President Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, which proposed reducing carbon emissions by 32 percent under 2005 levels by 2030. Energy producers would be mandated to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. This would, the Democratic administration claimed, prevent 3,600 early deaths.

The Supreme Court blocked the plan the following year, pending the results of legal challenges to the regulations in the lower courts. Overall, the U.S. power sector has already cut its carbon emissions by 27 percent from what they were in 2005.

Obama previewed the sweeping changes that would come from his environmental policies in January 2008 when he told the San Francisco Chronicle that, after his energy policies were in place, "[i]f somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them." He also promised that "electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket."

At least one coal plan did end up shutting its doors after the implementation of the Clean Power Plan. In February, Alabama Power's Plant Gorgas announced that it would have to close after 100 years of business.

What happened now?

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that it would replace the Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy rule or ACE.

According to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, "Unlike the CPP, the ACE rule adheres to the four corners of the Clean Air Act. EPA sets the best system of emission reductions and then states set the standards of performance."

This new plan benefits coal and other fossil fuel companies, which would have been subject to strict emissions standards under the Obama administration policy. The ACE will still seek to reduce carbon emissions, but by a smaller amount. It also leaves more of the decisions involved in implementing this plan up to the states.

Even with the regulations rolled back, some American energy companies, including Duke Energy and American Electric Power, have chosen to pledge to keep lowering their emissions anyway.

What's next?

Not everyone is happy with this move. New York Attorney General Letitia James promised to bring the EPA to court over what she called a "'Dirty Power' rule." She said she looked "forward to collaborating with other states and cities in taking action to protect all Americans from the increasingly disastrous impacts of climate change."

The attorney general of Connecticut has also threatened to sue.

One last thing…
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