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August 22, 2018

EPA estimates its proposal to replace the Clean Power Plan could lead to more than 1K premature deaths annually

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    The Trump administration on Monday released a proposed rule that would replace the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to lower greenhouse emissions, with a new rule that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated would result in higher carbon emissions and more than 1,000 premature deaths annually by 2030.

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    The Clean Power Plan, finalized by former President Barack Obama's administration in 2015, had set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoted states shifting from coal to energy sources that produced fewer carbon emissions.

    The plan was projected to curb power sector emissions by 32% by 2030, compared with emissions in 2005. Obama's administration estimated the Clean Power Plan would prevent 1,400 to 3,200 premature deaths annually by 2030 and 90,000 cases of severe asthma. The rule gave states broad leeway to determine how to meet those goals, such as by closing coal plants and promoting energy conservation efforts.

    However, the rule never took effect. In 2016, the Supreme Court stayed the rule while lower courts considered challenges filed by the coal industry and 29 states, which alleged the plan was "the most far-reaching and burdensome rule the [EPA] ha[d] ever forced onto the states."

    Trump admin moves to replace plan

    The Trump administration also opposed the 2015-era rule and on Monday the EPA proposed a new rule, called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, to replace the Clean Power Plan.

    Unlike the 2015-era rule, the Trump administration's proposal would not set a mandatory national reduction goal for greenhouse emissions. Instead, the proposed ruled would give states the flexibility to set individual targets for reducing greenhouse emissions using methods recommended by EPA, ABC News reports. The proposed rule would limit the actions states can take to decrease emissions from coal plants, according to HuffPost.

    Estimated health effects

    EPA estimated that, when all states have fully complied with the plan, the proposed rule would reduce greenhouse emissions by 34% when compared with 2005 levels. However, EPA in a technical analysis accompanying the proposed rule stated that the proposal "is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health" when compared to the Clean Power Plan.

    For instance, models provided by EPA estimated the proposed rule would lead to between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because rates of dangerous airborne particulates, called PM 2.5, would increase. According to the Times, PM 2.5 is linked to asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and lung disease. According to the Associated Press, models provided by EPA estimated that the proposed rule would contribute to 48,000 cases of severe asthma and hundreds more heart attacks, lead to 21,000 missed school days, and ultimately result in between 300 and 1,500 premature deaths. 

    In total, the agency estimated repealing the Clean Power Plan would cost the United States $1.4 billion to $3.9 billion annually, but EPA officials said they could not give firm projections on health effects because it is not yet known how states will choose to regulate greenhouse emissions.

    The proposed rule is open for public comment for 60 days.


    President Trump during a speech Tuesday said, "We want a clean environment. ... I want clean air. I want crystal clean water and we've got it. We've got the cleanest country in the planet right now." He added, "But I'm getting rid of some of these ridiculous rules and regulations, which are killing our companies ... and our jobs."

    Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator in EPA's air office, said, "We care very much about overall the amount of pollution that's emitted in the country and power plants are a significant source of certain types of air pollution." He continued, "[W]hat we're dealing with here are greenhouse gases. [W]e're not dealing with [sulfur dioxide], we're not dealing with [nitrogen oxides], we're not dealing with particulate matter, there are collateral effects on those emissions relative to what the (Clean Power Plan) would have accomplished." Wehrum added, "We have abundant legal authority to deal with those other pollutants directly, and we have aggressive programs in place that directly target emissions of those pollutants."

    But Harold Wimmer, national president of the American Lung Association, said, "With [the] proposal, President Trump and … Wheeler abandon much-needed public health safeguards against power plant pollution, placing the health of all Americans at risk, and especially those who are most vulnerable, including children, older adults, and people with asthma and heart disease."

    Richard Revesz, dean emeritus at the New York University School of Law, said of the proposal, "To their credit, they tell us directly, 'We are doing something to cause great harm to the American people.'"

    Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee said it is "mind-boggling" that the Trump administration is seeking to protect a "dying technology" over public health.

    Potential legal action

    According to the Journal, environmental groups are planning to challenge the proposal. Some states also said they plan to fight the new proposal, the AP reports.

    Both Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood (D) vowed to sue if the Trump administration's plan is approved.

    Underwood said, "If the Trump administration's proposal to dismantle the Clean Power Plan is adopted, we will work with our state and local partners to file suit to block it—in order to protect New Yorkers, and all Americans, from the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change."

    But some praised the proposed rule for giving states more flexibility. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) said, "I'm encouraged the EPA's newly proposed Affordable Clean Energy plan allows state input and clearly signals the 'War on Coal' is over" (Friedman, New York Times, 8/21; Puko, Wall Street Journal, 8/20; Ebbs, ABC News, 8/21; Kaufman, HuffPost, 8/21; Knickmeyer/Borenstein, Associated Press, 8/22; Haigh, Associated Press, 8/21).

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