EPA moves to dramatically cut regulation of coal power plants

EPA moves to dramatically cut regulation of coal power plants
The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo. The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed a major rollback of Obama-era regulations on coal-fired power plants, striking at one of the former administration’s legacy programs to rein in climate-changing fossil-fuel emissions. (The Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration moved on Tuesday to dramatically scale back restrictions on climate-changing emissions from coal-fired power plants even as it acknowledged that it could lead to more premature deaths and serious illnesses.

The Trump plan broadly increases the authority given to states to regulate coal power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency said the move “empowers states, promotes energy independence and facilitates economic growth and job creation.”

The move would dismantle a signature piece of President Barack Obama’s efforts to address climate change.

Bill Wehrum, head of the EPA’s air office, said the administration rejects any suggestion that the agency has a broad legal duty to combat climate change through regulation of power grids or promotion of cleaner energy. “An important part of what we’re doing here is getting us back into our lane,” Wehrum said.

Nebraska, whose power generation relies heavily on fossil fuels, was among the states that filed a lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Supreme Court put those regulations on hold in response to the legal challenge.

On Tuesday, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said he was pleased with the Trump plan, which he said would “turn back the burdensome and unlawful regulations set out in the Clean Power Plan.”

Said Gov. Pete Ricketts: “This federal red tape was completely unnecessary for our state because Nebraskans already successfully maintain clean air and clean water. This new proposal from the Trump administration returns power to the states where it belongs.”

State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, the Democratic candidate for governor, also welcomed the new proposal as long as it does not end up being too prescriptive for states. He said he believes that local control is always better but that states could make agreements to deal jointly with matters such as air quality, in which one state’s actions can affect those around it.

The Nebraska Public Power District, which still relies heavily on coal in power production, was in the process of reading and digesting the rule, spokesman Mark Becker said Tuesday. The utility’s legal team and administrators hope to share some impressions of the rule and what it might mean during NPPD’s September board meeting, Becker said.

“We have to really go in and see what the rule says before we can know the impact on NPPD and its operations,” he said.

State air quality officials had not studied the plan yet either but expect to analyze it closely, said Brian McManus, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. The EPA will take comment on the plan for 60 days.

In Iowa, Attorney General Tom Miller said the Trump plan takes the nation backward. Iowa was among a coalition of states and local governments that defended the Obama plan.

“Our health and our environment will suffer as a result,” Miller said, noting the strides Iowa has made to embrace renewable energy.

Legal challenges are expected. Opponents of Trump’s plan say the administration is abdicating its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act .

EPA officials said they could give no firm projections for the health effects of the new plan. But models provided by the agency estimate that under the Trump plan, 300 to 1,500 premature deaths would be avoided a year by 2030. Under the Obama plan’s projections, 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths would be avoided .

World-Herald staff writers Martha Stoddard, Aaron Sanderford and Nancy Gaarder contributed to this report.

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