WASHINGTON — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt signed a notice Tuesday proposing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, one of the major Obama administration policies regarding climate change.
Pruitt’s request is another action by the Trump administration to scrap the environmental policies of the preceding administration.
“We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate,” he said. ” Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule.”
The policy, which was finalized in 2015, would have reduced carbon dioxide levels to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. States could reach their needed level by embracing natural gas and renewable sources of energy, which produce fewer emissions.
The rule never went into effect after more than two dozen state attorneys general — including West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey as well as Pruitt, who previously served as Oklahoma’s attorney general — filed suit regarding its planned implementation.
“The CPP ignored states’ concerns and eroded longstanding and important partnerships that are a necessary part of achieving positive environmental outcomes,” Pruitt added. “We can now assess whether further regulatory action is warranted; and, if so, what is the most appropriate path forward, consistent with the Clean Air Act and principles of cooperative federalism.”
According to the EPA, the repeal would save companies up to $33 billion by avoiding compliance costs.
Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said his organization believes the move signifies the end of what he called “the war on coal.”
“This was the centerpiece of President Obama and his EPA’s plans to ratchet down coal production from West Virginia and across the country,” he said. “It’s just a major development under the Trump administration.”
President Donald Trump announced in June the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, an international accord aimed at limiting the global temperature increase. The deal was signed by the United States in 2016.
“We referred to most of the (Obama administration’s) regulatory and program issues we were dealing with as a death from a thousand cuts,” Hamilton added. “This was the knockout punch. This was the big regulatory provision that was going to prevent future coal-fired plants from being constructed.”
An August report from the Department of Energy stated the rise of natural gas facilities as the reason for the decline in coal-powered plant operations and increase in the retirement of coal and nuclear facilities.
“Production costs of coal and nuclear plants remained somewhat flat while the new and existing, more flexible, and relatively lower-operating cost natural gas plants drove down wholesale market prices to the point that some formerly profitable nuclear and coal facilities began operating at a loss,” the study stated.
Yet Hamilton said coal- and nuclear-powered plants are still needed in order to meet a high electricity demand.
“You just to maintain a certain level of generating power,” he said. “Coal, coupled with nuclear energy, provides that security for the grid.”
West Virginia Sierra Club Chair Jim Kotcon said the state cannot rely on coal as a leading source of electricity and should use regulations as an opportunity to diversify the state’s facilities.
“We need to be moving forward with renewable sources of energy and look at electricity efficiency as a real, clear goal,” he said.
Kotcon called Pruitt’s move “expected” given promises by Trump to scrap the policy, which includes the March executive order asking the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan. Kotcon added Pruitt and Trump’s previous comments denying climate change as another reason for his lack of surprise.
“The facts and the science simply don’t support their position,” he said. “They are going to have a hard time trying to undo the clear legal obligation the EPA has to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.”
James Van Nostrand, director of the West Virginia University Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said in a release the repeal would do little to bring coal jobs back.
“The adoption of the Clean Power Plan had virtually no effect on the coal industry,” he said. “It was years away before the regulations would have been implemented in any event, and thus revoking the rule will have no positive impact on coal jobs.”
United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts said the Clean Power Plan was “unworkable” and exceeded what the EPA was allowed to regulate.
“There are so many in the United States who want to put hundreds of thousands of American coal miners, utility workers, electrical workers, boilermakers, railway workers, seafarers, and construction workers out of work – as well as destroying the jobs of all the people who support those workers,” he said in a press release.
West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael voiced his support of the move in a press release, adding he was “thankful” for the Trump administration for being committed to energy independence.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the United States should embrace all forms of energy and continue to develop new production options.
“For years, the Obama administration waged a war on coal and issued heavy-handed regulations to pick winners and losers among energy industries,” she said on Facebook. “In West Virginia, our coal miners, their families and entire communities felt the blow of that misguided approach to energy production.”
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said in a press release the repeal removes a harmful policy that threatened the country’s energy production.
“I expect the Trump Administration to follow this repeal with a bipartisan plan that, coupled with research, will allow us to utilize coal cleanly and more efficiently than ever before,” he added.
Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., tweeted he was glad to see the policy be rolled back.
The Trump administration is seeking comment on the next policy step to take. The public has 60 days to voice their thoughts about the move.