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Trump’s EPA Reverses Obama-era Clean Power Plan

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The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency on June 19 reversed a rule issued by the Obama administration to curb carbon emissions from coal plants. The new rules, announced by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, would replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that set national emissions standards. The Trump plan would give states authority to set their own carbon limits. The reversal, praised by coal companies and miners, brought strong negative reactions from environmental groups. Several Democratic State Attorneys General announced that they would challenge the regulation in court.

The new regulation, titled the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, is the most drastic effort by the Trump administration to protect coal-fired utilities to date. Unlike the Obama-era regulation, the new plan establishes no national emission targets. Instead, targets would be set by individual states, which are free to decide that no targets are necessary.

The EPA said energy markets are already converting from coal to less-expensive natural gas and other cleaner fuels and, over time, that process will lead to a cleaner environment. The EPA estimates that the market adaptation of cleaner fuels will cause carbon emissions to fall as much as 35% below 2005 levels by 2030. Environmentalists argue that this rate of reduction is too slow to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The scientific consensus is that staying below this threshold would mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

Since 1997, the percentage of U.S. electricity powered by coal has plummeted from 52% to less than 25%, causing major closures of coal mines and putting tens of thousands of coal miners out of work. Industry experts say that the trend is more the result of cheap natural gas than of regulation. 

The entire issue feeds into the broader, global discussion about the Paris Climate Accord of 2016. By agreeing to the accord, President Obama committed the United States to significantly reduce its carbon emissions by 2025. President Trump, who campaigned against the accord, pulled the U.S. out of the accord in the early months after assuming office.


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