Trump coal plan could release hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into air

The new proposal could have enormous implications for dozens of ageing coal-fired power plants across the US

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2018, 5:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2018, 9:29pm

US President Donald Trump plans next week to unveil a proposal that would empower states to establish emission standards for coal-fired power plants rather than speeding their retirement – a major overhaul of the Obama administration’s signature climate policy that could significantly increase the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Trump plans to announce the measure as soon as Tuesday during a visit to West Virginia, according to the two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House was still finalising details on Friday.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s own impact analysis, which runs nearly 300 pages, projects that the proposal would make only slight cuts to overall emissions of pollutants – including carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – over the next decade.

The Obama rule, by contrast, dwarfs those cuts by a factor of more than 12.

The new proposal, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period, could have enormous implications for dozens of ageing coal-fired power plants across the country.

EPA estimates the measure will affect more than 300 US plants, providing companies with an incentive to keep coal plants in operation rather than replacing them with cleaner natural gas or renewable energy projects.

And while EPA projects that the US power sector’s overall carbon output will decline over time due to market pressures and other factors, the policy shift would make it increasingly difficult for America to meet the international climate goals it adopted under the previous administration.

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By 2030, according to administration officials, the proposal would cut CO2 emissions from 2005 levels by between 0.7 per cent and 1.5 per cent, compared with a business-as-usual approach.

Those reductions are equivalent to taking from 2.7 million to 5.3 million cars off the road.

By comparison, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 19 per cent during that same time frame.

That is equivalent to taking 75 million cars out of circulation and preventing more than 300 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Under the EPA’s new plan, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that help form smog would be cut between one per cent and two per cent by 2030 – from 2005 levels. Under Obama the agency projected its policy would reduce those pollutants by 24 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively, by the end of the next decade.

EPA did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Joseph Goffman, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law programme, one of the architects of the Obama-era rule, said in a phone interview that the higher emissions that would result from the Trump proposal would damage the climate as well as public health.