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Can Trump derail the Clean Power Plan? It's complicated, analysts say

Can Trump derail the Clean Power Plan? It's complicated, analysts say

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Clean power debate

The Laramie River Power Station in Wheatland is pictured in 2014. The definition of “clean coal” is ambiguous, but it’s drawing new attention after President Donald Trump invoked the term in a rally in Phoenix.

One of Donald Trump’s most consistent campaign promises was to unleash the nation’s energy industries. From digging coal to drilling for oil, the president-elect promised growth and a repeal of federal regulations.

The promises resonated in Wyoming, particularly in the coal industry, where there is fear that federal limits on emissions will kill the commodity.

When Donald Trump won the election, many focused on how he could bring about change in coal, with most agreeing that while a president cannot fix market challenges, he could have an impact on the Clean Power Plan.

In a recent conference call and report, UBS, an international financial firm, looked at how the president-elect could keep his promise to repeal the CPP. In short, it’s not that simple.

What happens next really depends on the D.C Circuit Court, which is currently considering the plan, analysts said.

The Clean Power Plan is a federal rule by the Environmental Protection Agency on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emission 32 percent from 2005 levels.

Opposition to the plan led to a stay on its implementation until a court has decided the issue.

Coal producers are concerned that the plan will be a boon for natural gas, which is already an increasingly competitive force in the electricity market.

Most agree that the Clean Power Plan would contribute to a significant long-term decline in the coal industry. Projections from the Energy Information Agency predicted that coal would decline by 26 percent by 2040 under the plan.

However, if the case is still in court when Trump takes office on Jan. 20, the new president will likely ask the court for a stay to allow the new administration a chance to revise current rules, Tom Lorenzen, an expert on federal environmental rules for the law firm Crowell and Morning, said during the UBS conference call.

There is likely a push to keep that from happening, he said.

“My guess is that we have some battles going on inside the D.C. Circuit at the moment, where the pro-EPA judges, those who want to write an opinion upholding the rule, are working feverishly to get that decision done and push it out before Jan. 20,” Lorenzen said. “The liberals on the court will want to get a decision on the books to lay down some markers before the Trump administration.”

“If the D.C. Circuit has rejected the rule … then the new EPA and the Department of Justice will probably do nothing,” Lorenzen said. “They don’t need to. The rule has been invalidated.”

Allies of the plan, like the Sierra Club, the state of New York and the Center for Biological Diversity are likely to turn to the Supreme Court if the rule is overturned, he said.

Whatever the court’s decision, opponents will have 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, where deliberations on a decision could take up to half of Trump’s first term, Lorenzen said.

However, whether the plan goes through in its existing form, is reworked or is completely discarded, the CPP’s stay in court has likely helped coal in the short run.

“The near-term impacts to coal are largely, already underway,” said the UBS report following the conference call. “We see this as particularly slowing deployment of coal to gas transition.”

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner


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