Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday finalized the agency’s plan for replacing Obama-era regulations on emissions from coal-fired power plants, part of a long-running effort by the Trump administration to roll back environmental rules.
While the Obama administration and Democrats saw the Clean Power Plan as a crucial component in international efforts to curb global warming, Republicans have long claimed those regulations went too far and were too costly. From the start of President Trump’s administration, his Environmental Protection Agency has been working to overhaul the program, which was halted by the Supreme Court in 2016 before going into effect.
During a press conference, Wheeler formally signed the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which would give individual states wide discretion to decide whether to require limited efficiency upgrades at individual coal-fired power plants. Wheeler said the changes are being made because "the American public elected a president with a better approach."
The ACE rule, once fully implemented, allows states to select their own energy plans. States will be given three years to submit the plan and the EPA will have 12 months to approve it. Wheeler called it a sign that "fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the mix" in the U.S. energy supply.
In remarks, he also contrasted the ACE rule with proposals being pushed by left-wing politicians, like New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
"The contrast between our approach and the Green New Deal, or plans like it, couldn't be clearer," Wheeler said. "Rather than Washington telling Americans what type of energy they can use, or how they can travel, or even what they can eat, we are working cooperatively with the states to provide affordable, dependable, and diverse supply of energy that continues to get cleaner and more efficient."
Democrats and environmentalists ripped the move. The rule will go into effect shortly after publication in the Federal Register, but court challenges are expected.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said Tuesday she plans to sue the EPA over the rule. "This is yet another prime example of this administration's attempt to rollback critical regulations that will have devastating impacts on both the safety & health of our nation," the Democrat tweeted.
Joseph Goffman, an EPA official under President Barack Obama, said he feared that the Trump administration was trying to set a legal precedent that the Clean Air Act gives the federal government "next to no authority to do anything" about climate-changing emissions from the country's power grid.
The Obama rule, adopted in 2015, sought to reshape the country's power system by encouraging utilities to rely less on dirtier-burning coal-fired power plants and more on electricity from natural gas, solar, wind and other lower or no-carbon sources.
Supporters of the revised rule say the Obama-era plan overstepped the EPA's authority.
"The Clean Power Plan was designed largely to put coal out of business," said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior official at the EPA who helped write the replacement rule.
Trump's overhaul is meant to let states "figure out what is best for their mission in terms of meeting modern environmental standards" and providing affordable energy, she said.
With coal miners at his side, Trump signed an order in March 2017 directing the EPA to scrap the Obama rule. It was one of the first acts of his presidency.
Fox News’ Kellianne Jones, Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.