The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that he will sign a new rule overriding the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era effort to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
“The war on coal is over,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declared in the coal mining state of Kentucky.
“No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”
As it turns out, there may be a better place: Wyoming.
The state’s Powder River Basin produces more coal than the next six coal-producing states combined. Unraveling a regulation that could have decimated the market for the state’s struggling coal sector makes good on a campaign promise that resonated in Wyoming, where nearly 70 percent of voters, the highest share in the country, backed President Donald Trump.
“We’re obviously happy with the decision,” said Travis Deti, director of the Wyoming Mining Association, in a statement Monday. “The intent of the Clean Power Plan was to end the use of coal in America’s energy mix. This costly case of regulatory over-reach would have put our nation’s most abundant, reliable and affordable energy resource off limits for little to no gain to the environment.”
For Pruitt, getting rid of the Clean Power Plan will mark the culmination of a long fight he began as the elected attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt was among about two dozen attorney generals who sued to stop President Barack Obama’s push to limit carbon emissions.
Closely tied to the oil and gas industry in his home state, Pruitt rejects the consensus of scientists that man-made emissions from burning fossil fuels are the primary driver of global climate change.
President Donald Trump, who appointed Pruitt and shares his skepticism of established climate science, promised to kill the Clean Power Plan during the 2016 campaign as part of his broader pledge to revive the nation’s struggling coal mines.
In his order Tuesday, Pruitt is expected to declare that the Obama-era rule exceeded federal law by setting emissions standards that power plants could not reasonably meet.
Pruitt appeared at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at Whayne Supply, a Hazard, Kentucky, company that sells coal mining supplies. The store’s owners have been forced to lay off about 60 percent of its workers in recent years.
While cheering the demise of the Clean Power Plan as a way to stop the bleeding, McConnell conceded most of those lost jobs are never coming back.
“A lot of damage has been done,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “This doesn’t immediately bring everything back, but we think it stops further decline of coal-fired plants in the United States, and that means there will still be some market here.”
Wyoming coal has faced some of the same challenges as Eastern mines, and those did not go away with Monday’s announcement. But differences in how Western coal is mined has insulated Wyoming from the dramatic job losses that the eastern coal sector has been suffering for years. It is cheaper and safer and takes fewer miners to produce coal from Wyoming’s surface mines.
The recent downturn in Wyoming had more to do with market challenges than pending regulations like the Clean Power Plan, experts say. Low natural gas prices have eroded coal’s market share, and as natural-fired plants have been built, coal-fired plants have faced continual closures. More than 90 percent of Wyoming’s coal is sent out of state, and regulation or not, it continues to face challenges from declining demand.
Still, the Clean Power Plan would have serious consequences to one of the state’s cornerstone industries.
Obama’s plan was designed to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The rule dictated specific emission targets for states based on power plant emissions and gave officials broad latitude to decide how to achieve reductions.
The Supreme Court put the plan on hold last year following legal challenges by industry and coal-friendly states.
Even so, the plan helped drive a recent wave of retirements of coal-fired plants, which also are being squeezed by lower costs for natural gas and renewable power, as well as state mandates promoting energy conservation.
The withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan is the latest in a series of moves by Trump and Pruitt to dismantle Obama’s legacy on fighting climate change, including the delay or rollback of rules limiting levels of toxic pollution in smokestack emissions and wastewater discharges from coal-burning power plants.
The president announced earlier this year that he will pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. Nearly 200 countries have committed to combat global warming by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
“This president has tremendous courage,” Pruitt said Monday. “He put America first and said to the rest of the world we are going to say no and exit the Paris Accord. That was the right thing to do.”
Environmental groups and public health advocates quickly derided the decision as shortsighted.
“Trump is not just ignoring the deadly cost of pollution, he’s ignoring the clean energy deployment that is rapidly creating jobs across the country,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.