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Trump Administration Proposes New Plan To Regulate Carbon Emissions From Coal


There was a dramatic pullback today for the cornerstone of President Obama's plan to fight climate change - his plan to rein in emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency today proposed a new rule to replace the Obama plan with what it is calling the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. It would give individual states more authority to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The EPA says the new rule restores the rule of law and empowers individual states to act on greenhouse gas emissions. Critics of the rules say the Trump plan would increase carbon emissions, speed up climate change and cause hundreds of premature deaths every year.

Dan Lashof is the U.S. director of World Resources Institute. It's a nonprofit research organization that focuses on environmental issues. Dan Lashof is with us in the studio to talk about the change. Welcome.

DAN LASHOF: Great to be here.

CHANG: So the Obama plan never fully went into effect - right? - after a bunch of litigation. So how much does this new rule really change things for power plants?

LASHOF: Well the Obama Clean Power Plan set in motion a series of investments in cleaner electricity that are, to this day, reducing emissions in the power sector, even though the rule itself never went into effect. So we're on a trajectory where the market is driving replacement of coal-fired power plants with cleaner sources. And the Trump plan really would slow that down. It's not going to reverse it, by their own calculations. So this is not a revival of the coal industry, as President Trump may want to claim. But it does slow down the replacement of coal. And that has real consequences for our climate and public health and the future of U.S. leadership on climate.

CHANG: But in a call today with reporters, an EPA official said that because there's been already this huge industry shift towards cheaper, natural gas, he said that there would be very little difference in carbon emissions under this new rule. What do you make of that?

LASHOF: Well, this plan will result in emissions that are about 3 percent higher than what would happen under the Obama Clean Power Plan, according to EPA's own calculations, which is not huge compared with the reductions that we're seeing.

CHANG: Right.

LASHOF: But even that small increment means hundreds of additional premature deaths per year and damages from climate change and health effects that are worth billions of dollars per year, far in excess of the savings that they're claiming would occur from replacing the Clean Power Plan with this new rule. So the cost-benefit calculation just doesn't add up.

CHANG: I want to talk about the potential health effects of this proposed rule. The Trump administration's own documents acknowledge that their plan would contribute to health problems such as asthma or pulmonary disease. Do you have a sense of how quickly these health risks could become real if this rule goes into effect?

LASHOF: Well, thousands of people die prematurely from breathing fine particulates every year. That number has been decreasing because of actions that the Environmental Protection Agency has taken to curb emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and other policies that have promoted a switch from coal-fired power to cleaner energy sources. So by slowing that process down, the Trump administration is going to increase the relative number of excess deaths and exacerbated asthma attacks compared with what would happen otherwise by an amount that will grow every year. So...

CHANG: So how do they explain away this incredible health risk that's being posed?

LASHOF: Well, they go through a lot of machinations to try to call a question of the health studies. But they published them anyway, fortunately, because I think, basically, you have dedicated civil servants at the EPA who are saying this is the methodology. This is what the data show. You can put spin around it. But we're still going to publish what our best science tells us the effect will be.

CHANG: Dan Lashof is the U.S. director of World Resources Institute. Thank you very much for coming in today.

LASHOF: Thank you.