Replacing the Clean Power Plan Is a Terrible Idea. Here’s Why.

By Sage Sachs

On Tuesday August 21st, the Trump administration formally proposed a replacement rule for the Clean Power Plan after months of threatening to repeal the Obama-era regulation.

If put into effect, the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule could have disastrous implications for long-term American greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. It could also threaten the health of Americans across the U.S., and further endanger already tenuous federal climate policy.

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First proposed by the Obama administration in 2014, the Clean Power Plan seeks to address the enormous amount of GHG emissions resulting from American power plants. A third of total US emissions stem from fossil fuel-based power plants. To reduce these emissions, the CPP proposes an individualized, state-based approach in which the EPA calculates and sets a reasonable reduction target for each state. States then have the autonomy to determine how they’ll meet their target, such as by switching to renewable energy sources, putting a price on carbon emissions, or increasing energy efficiency.

According to Obama-Era EPA projections, the CPP could reduce US emissions over 30 percent by 2030.

The CPP isn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2022, but it has undergone a considerable amount of criticism from the GOP. This includes President Trump, whose 2016 campaign platform was built on his outspoken disapproval of US environmental regulations, especially those that threatened the future of fossil fuel industry.

Since entering the White House, the president and his staff have attempted to systematically dismantle key environmental protections to grant the oil, gas and coal industries increased access to untapped fossil fuel reserves. As of early 2018, The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration has tried to reverse 70 U.S. environmental regulations, including the CPP.

Trump and his EPA argue that the CPP exceeds the EPA’s authority as a federal agency, and must accordingly be repealed and replaced.  The administration’s proposed replacement, the ACE, would supposedly create emissions reductions equivalent to those resulting from the CPP by encouraging energy efficiency and on-site improvements in existing power plants. The ACE also does not set strict emissions reductions targets, and would instead let states set their own reduction goals. These changes directly conflict with the CPP, which worked to reduce US emissions through movement away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, and via EPA-upheld state emissions targets.

Trump’s EPA maintains that the ACE would promote American energy independence and would also give the power of emissions regulation back to the states. In other words, replacing the CPP with the ACE is an attempt to prop up an increasingly threatened fossil fuel industry, and further minimizes the federal government’s regulatory role in emission reductions.

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First of all, the data is clear: renewable energy is becoming cheaper and more economically viable than fossil fuels. Greater GHG emission reductions occur when power plants are retired and replaced with renewable energy solutions, as opposed to extending the lifespan of existing plants through on-site efficiency projects. Fossil-fuel based energy is what it is, and it’s pretty challenging to make it “cleaner.” The most straightforward way to reduce US emissions is to move towards renewable energy, especially in a sector as polluting as the fossil fuel industry.

Second, giving states increased autonomy over emissions targets is not a workable proposal. This means that more climate-focused states like California and Washington State will continue independently reducing their emissions, while states such as Texas and West Virginia whose economies are heavily dependent on fossil fuels will not be as proactive in reducing their emissions. Top-down emission reduction standards not only create a unified approach to emissions reductions, but also incentivize states that aren’t transitioning as quickly towards renewable solutions.

And then there’s the health impact of fossil fuel-based energy. Air pollution resulting from power plant emissions is linked to numerous health conditions, including the worsening of respiratory conditions, cardiac conditions and asthma. As numerous American health organizations have recognized, increased emissions from the repeal of the CPP would increase missed work and school days, exacerbate asthma attacks, and cause more premature deaths as a result of worsening air quality across the US. Further reliance on fossil fuels in the US would not only continue to place the planet at risk, it would also continue endangering the lives and health of Americans.

If put into effect, the ACE would be another huge setback for American climate policy. True American “energy independence” would come from enabling equitable and just transitions to renewable energy across the US, as opposed to the profit-driven push for continued fossil fuel reliance outlined in the ACE.


Photographed by Sage Sachs