Trump administration to lift barriers to build new coal plants

The Trump administration is rolling back Obama-era rules on climate change regulation limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal power plants in the United States, making it easier to build new ones.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan, announced Thursday, would no longer mandate that plants meet the strict emissions goals of achieving emissions equal to or less than what plants would have achieved with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Under the proposed revisions to the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), EPA would let new coal plants emit up to 1,900 pounds (862 kg) of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity. The rule would replace the Obama-era standard allowing only 1,400 pounds of carbon per megawatt-hour.

Proposal eases limits of carbon dioxide emissions from coal power plants, making it easier to build new ones.

EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum called the old rule “wishful thinking.”

“Today’s actions reflect our approach of defining new, clean coal standards by data and the latest technological information, not wishful thinking,” he said in a statement.

“U.S. coal-fired power will be a part of our energy future and our revised standards will ensure that the emissions profiles of new plants continue to improve.”

The announcement follows a recent U.S. Energy Information Administration report showing that domestic coal use will sink to a 39-year low this year, largely due to a drop in its use for generating electricity.

Only one, relatively small, new coal-fired generator is expected to come online by the end of 2019, the EIA said.

According to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, power plant operators have either shut down or announced plans to close at least 630 coal plants in 43 states in the last eight years. That’s about 40% of the U.S. coal fleet, the trade group says.

EPA’s move comes as the world gathers in Poland for what is being dubbed the most important meeting on climate change since the 2015 Paris Agreement, which President Donald Trump has criticized repeatedly.

It also follows the US push to edit a G20 communique by adding a paragraph emphasizing that the US "reiterates its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and affirms its strong commitment to economic growth and energy access and security, utilizing all energy sources and technologies, while protecting the environment."

Janet McCabe, who served as the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for Office of Air and Radiation during the Obama administration and helped shape the existing rule told MINING.com the EPA's proposal was just one more step the Trump administration was taking that shows "a complete disregard for public health and the health of the planet, in favour of what appears here to be a pretty elusive goal."

McCabe called the emissions standards set during her watch “appropriate” and said the current administration will likely have to defend in court its reasons for easing them.

"Today's proposal is nothing more than another thoughtless attempt by the Trump Administration to prop up their backwards and false narrative about reviving coal at the expense of science, public safety, and reality," Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.

The proposed modifications are Trump’s latest attempt to fulfill campaign promises to revive the coal industry and restore mining jobs. But experts believe they are unlikely to dramatically alter the US power mix or give a big boost to domestic coal demand, which has flagged amid competition from cheap natural gas and renewables.