EPA Announces Replacement for Clean Power Plan

Published August 23, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule to replace the Clean Power Plan developed by the agency under former President Barack Obama.

The proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule would require improvements in coal power plant efficiency and establish guidelines for states to address greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants.

Endangerment Untouched

EPA had announced its intent to abandon the Clean Power Plan in October 2017, responding to lawsuits by more than half the states, a stay imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Trump administration concerns over the legality of the plan, its high costs, and minimal benefits.

Conservative public policy organizations have expressed hopes the Trump administration would take the opportunity to rescind the Obama-era EPA’s “endangerment finding,” a determination that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare and thus justify EPA regulation. The Trump administration chose not to rescind the endangerment finding at this time, instead developing ACE to replace CPP.

ACE requires states to mandate improvements in coal power plant efficiency and provides a list of candidate technologies from which states can choose. ACE also revises New Source Review permitting guidelines in a manner allowing power plant operators to perform more routine maintenance and make more upgrades without triggering requirements to implement expensive equipment makeovers.

EPA estimates the new restrictions on coal power plants will result in billions of dollars in additional costs but will avert approximately $6.4 billion in costs relative to CPP.

‘Pare Back … Illegal Policy’

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) praised the proposed rule on the Senate floor upon its August 21 release.

“The Obama administration’s so-called ‘Clean Power Plan’ offered a typical story from that era,” said McConnell. “An innocent-seeming name. A pleasant-sounding objective. But underneath, an intrusive regulatory regime built not on effective policy but on far-left ideology.

“That’s why I am so grateful that, today, the Trump administration is unveiling its plan to pare back this unfair, unworkable, and likely illegal policy,” McConnell said.

Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, says ACE is likely to be significantly less costly than CPP.

“The EPA’s proposed replacement rule is a huge improvement over the so-called Clean Power Plan, which is almost certainly illegal and would be incredibly costly to consumers if implemented,” Ebell said in a press statement. “The new rule provides minimal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and will therefore result in only small increases in electric rates.”

Endangerment Petition Pending

Ebell also expresses hope the Trump administration will rescind the endangerment finding, saying it may be necessary to avert further regulation.

“It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will find that the replacement rule satisfies the requirements of the 2009 endangerment finding,” Ebell said. “CEI’s petition to reopen and reconsider the finding is still before the EPA.

“We think that granting the petition remains the best option if the court decides that the new rule doesn’t do enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants,” said Ebell. “The Clean Power Plan was a key part of the Obama administration’s war on affordable energy, based on the finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. However, the best and most recent science undermines that claim, and therefore reconsideration is warranted.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute.