The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Monday that it sent a proposed rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, a standard step before a proposal’s public release and comment.

The proposed rule would replace the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 to regulate emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants by setting state-by-state reduction targets. Although not yet publicly released, early reports indicate the new rule will adopt a narrower assessment of the means available to reduce greenhouse gases and therefore will implement less aggressive emissions reduction targets.

In October 2017, the Trump administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that called for the Clean Power Plan to be repealed. In December 2017, EPA put out a notice asking the public to submit ideas for a replacement to the rule, which most agree the agency is obligated to produce. The Clean Air Act instructs the EPA to set “standards of performance for any existing source for any air pollutant,” and requires these standards to reflect “the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emission reduction.”

Since April 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has extended a temporary stay of the Clean Power Plan five times as the Trump administration contemplates a replacement.

The Monday nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could influence how litigation over this rule plays out. Kennedy was often the deciding vote in environmental cases brought before the court, including the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA climate change lawsuit in 2007 that laid the legal groundwork for federal action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Kavanaugh voiced some skepticism that the EPA has the authority to limit greenhouse gases when his court heard oral arguments on the Clean Power Plan in 2016.

“Global warming isn’t a blank check” for the president to regulate carbon emissions,” he said during oral arguments. “I understand the frustration with Congress,” Kavanaugh added. But he said the rule, rather than Congress, was “fundamentally transforming an industry.”

Pruitt Resigns from the EPA

Scott Pruitt has resigned as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Andrew Wheeler, who was confirmed by the Senate as the deputy administrator of the EPA in April, will now serve as the agency’s acting administrator. Wheeler, largely identified by the press as a coal industry lobbyist, began his career as an EPA employee and then oversaw the agency for years as chief of staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for Chairman James Inhofe.

Pruitt left the EPA facing more than a dozen inquiries into his spending and self-dealing practices and amid debate over his revisitation of six pollution policies during his 17 months. He cited in his resignation letter that these “unrelenting attacks” had taken a toll.

“It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring,” Pruitt wrote.

What’s next is uncertain, but Wheeler has suggested that the EPA likely won’t change its priorities after Pruitt.

“If the environmentalists think [Trump is] going to make promises and we’re going to do the opposite, then there’s not a lot of common ground to work on,” said Wheeler. “I’m going to continue to move forward with those” priorities Pruitt laid out on behalf of Trump.

The Washington Post reported that although policy priorities are expected to remain the same, what may change is the way the EPA talks about deregulatory work.

Culturally, Wheeler also may bring change. In his opening speech with EPA employees, Wheeler reassured agency staff, saying “[t]o the employees, I want you to know that I will start with the presumption that you are performing our work as well as it can be done. My instinct will be to defend your work, and I will seek the facts from you before drawing conclusions.”

Study Finds Coal Bailout Proposal Could Increase Premature Deaths, Carbon Dioxide Emissions

A working paper released by the independent think tank Resources for the Future finds that if  President Donald Trump’s proposed bailout of coal-fired power plants goes into effect in 2019 and 2020 it could lead to the pollution-related deaths of 353 to 815 Americans. The paper indicates that each year the policy could cause 1 death for each 2 to 4.5 of the estimated total 790 coal-mine jobs estimated to be supported by the bailout.

According to the authors, delayed retirement of coal that have announced they will close by the end of 2020 could cause these deaths due to their additional sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. The paper’s modeling simulations show that over the two-year period the policy would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 22 million tons, or about the amount emitted by 4.3 million cars in a year. Applying the policy to nuclear generators would prevent only 24 to 53 premature deaths and 9 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the period.

The authors call these mortality estimates “conservative” in part because the number of plants prevented from retiring could be larger than the number modeled.

The assessment, which assumes that the Trump administration’s possible action would delay closure of some 3 percent of U.S. coal-fired generation capacity and 1 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity, is one of the first examinations of the evolving plan to prop up coal and nuclear power plants that are struggling to compete with power plants using cheap natural gas and renewable electricity.

That proposed bailout, outlined in a memo in May, would use a Cold War-era law to keep aging coal and nuclear plants from shuttering. On June 1, Trump ordered U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate action to keep those plants open.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

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