Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated last week: “The era of top down, one-size-fits-all federal mandates is over.” Andrew Wheeler stated this with respect to the easing of coal-fired power plant regulations. Under the Obama administration’s EPA, the administration created a standard for all coal-fired power plants that, according to the Obama administration, would reduce carbon emissions by 24% by the end of 2030 as compared to carbon emissions in 2005. The new EPA announcement, which is subject to a 60-day comment period, uses those emission standards as a baseline but will allow states to lessen those standards based on various factors.
US Emission Standards
Currently, the US is the second largest carbon emissions producer, also referred to as greenhouse gases. Climate change advocates have long referred to carbon emissions as the main contributing factor in the greenhouse effect. To that end, the Obama administration adopted various targets to significantly reduce carbon emissions to comply with international standards.
In contrast to the Obama administration, the Trump administration seemingly does not buy the climate change argument. Based on this, it looks to balance economic considerations with legislation that, on the surface, intends to reduce carbon emissions. The reduced emphasis of carbon emission dangers, if any, allow for state-specific tailoring of carbon emission requirements.
The Trump administration argues that the leeway for states to relax emission rules allows for local coal-fired plants to become more efficient in respect to emissions while not having to spend extra money to get there. In particular, older coal-fired power plants can retool and use more energy efficient upgrades so they can still compete with natural gas plants and the like.
This strikes balance wherein older power plants can still compete with natural gas and stay profitable. A sudden increase in the closure of power plants might result in skyrocketing costs of natural gas. This would not be a win for the economy, although those supporting the Obama-era regulations would argue that this would be a better enhancement for the population’s welfare.
Experts also note that while older plants may be able to retrofit their machinery with more efficient tools, it may lead to an increase in carbon emissions. This is because such power plants would be able to compete with natural gas and therefore continue production at equal levels or even expand such production.
Others question this logic because they believe that while the Trump regulation relaxation will help for some coal-fired plants, it will not help in the long run. Ultimately, the logic goes, natural gas will replace most power plants as a more efficient, cleaner burning fuel. This will result in a reduction of the reliance on the old way of providing energy.
It seems that the climate change discussion is playing out with EPA regulations. Seemingly, the Obama EPA set standards based on climate change issues; the Trump EPA does not believe in climate change and therefore rolls back or lightens regulations. There will be more to this story.