Coalition of Cities and States Sues to Save Obama-Era Power Plant Emissions Rules

August 13, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A coalition of 22 states and seven major cities sued the Trump administration Tuesday in a bid to prevent it from dismantling an Obama-era regulation that established national limits on the carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

In a petition filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the plaintiffs, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, argue the White House has offered no sound scientific justification for voiding and replacing the regulation with less stringent standards.

“The science is indisputable; our climate is changing. Ice caps are melting. Sea levels are rising. Weather is becoming more and more extreme. Without significant course correction, we are careening towards a climate disaster,” Attorney General James said.

“Rather than staying the course with policies aimed at fixing the problem and protecting people’s health, safety, and the environment, the Trump Administration repealed the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with this ‘Dirty Power’ rule,” she continued, promising her office, ” and this groundbreaking coalition of states and cities from across the nation, will fight back against this unlawful, do-nothing rule in order to protect our future from catastrophic climate change.”  

The Clean Power Plan unveiled by then-President Obama in August 2015 required states to implement plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2022, and encouraged them to do so by closing the worst-polluting plants and replacing the power they produce with cleaner natural gas or renewable energy.

In announcing the plan, Obama said the United States had an obligation to rein in its release of carbon dioxide and related emissions, which are considered a major contributor to climate change because they trap the sun’s heat rather than allowing it to filter off into space.

In fact, at the time, many coal-fired plants were already closing. A total of 289 have closed since 2010, representing about 40 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power capacity. Another 241 coal-fired plants remain open.

Only one new coal-fired plant has opened — in Alaska — since President Trump took office nearly three years ago.

In fact, estimates released earlier this year by the Energy Information Administration suggest coal will comprise only about 25 percent of the nation’s energy mix by the end of the summer, down from 35 percent in 2015. Much of that capacity was replaced by natural gas.

 As far as the plaintiff states and cities are concerned the continued decline of coal is beside the point. What they are arguing is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s replacement for the Obama rule is so lax as to almost be laughable and could actually extend the life of the remaining coal-fired plants.

The EPA finalized its Affordable Clean Energy rule, which gives states more time and authority to decide how to implement emissions reductions from coal-fired plants, in June.

“Besides ignoring the science of climate change – the text of the ACE rule barely mentions climate change, much less recognize[s] the dire threat it poses to people’s health, the economy, and the environment – the rule disregards requirements of the federal Clean Air Act,” James said.

Three years ago, several Republican-led states and coal industry groups sued to block the Obama-era rule from going into effect, and in 2016 they succeeded in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily block the Obama administration from enforcing the rule.

A spokesman for the EPA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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