As Global Climate Talks Proceed, Trump EPA Opts to Weaken Coal Emissions Standards

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Well, I suppose one has to award points to Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for chutzpah, when it last week announced a rollback in coal emissions standards at the same time negotiators met in Katowice, Poland, to try and flesh out details for implementing the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Climate accords (which Trump has repudiated).

Or, looked at in another way, perhaps the correct word to describe the EPA’s behavior would be hubris – reflecting what its decision  to double down on dismissing climate change reveals about its attitude toward Gaia, goddess of the earth.

On Thursday, the EPA proposed changes to limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants. The Best System of Emission Reduction replaces a 2015 rule that identified partial carbon capture and storage.

The EPA action is only the latest in a series of Trump initiatives to rescind the clean climate initiatives of his predecessor,  as reported by the Washington Post in EPA announces plan to ease carbon emissions rule for new coal plants. And I should note, those earlier measures were too limited and breathtakingly inadequate to confront the scale and magnitude of the climate change problem – despite being largely touted as otherwise, and wth this false narrative being amplified over time. So, we shouldn’t  forget, that the  ongoingTrump depredations are actually measured against a meager baseline.

As CNBC reports in EPA plans to ease carbon emissions rules for new coal-fired power plants:

The EPA finalized rules in 2015 that would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants to 1,400 pounds per megawatt hour of electric power. To achieve that ambitious target, the agency required plants to capture at least 20 percent of emissions using so-called carbon capture and storage [CCS] technology.

Carbon capture and storage involves scrubbing emissions from smokestacks and sequestering them underground. The technology is in limited use, largely because of the massive amounts of energy needed to capture carbon and the challenges of storing it.

EPA’s proposal would lift the limit to 1,900 pounds per megawatt hour. The Trump administration would allow coal-fired facilities to use proven technology to hit the targets.

The EPA maintains in its news release announcing the proposed rule change, “The primary reason for this proposed revision is the high costs CCS.”

According to the WaPo:

Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said at an afternoon news conference that the Obama administration’s rule, which effectively required any new coal plant to have costly carbon capture equipment to meet certain emissions standards, was “disingenuous” because the costs of the technology made new coal plants infeasible.

Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, asserts, according to the WaPo:

 [T]he Trump administration’s proposed policy would have “high yet achievable standards that are rooted in reality,” that would result in “leveling the playing field” for all types of fuels.

“You will see a decrease in emissions,” Wheeler argued, saying that U.S. investments would lead to new technologies. “By allowing the genius of the private sector to work, we can keep American energy reliable and abundant.”

By contrast, environmentalists decry the potential impact of the Trump policy reversal for exacerbating climate change.  According to NPR:

Environmental groups argue that in order to reduce climate change risks, the world will have to stop burning coal. They blasted the EPA’s announcement.

“This is just one more foolhardy move by a misguided administration that will be judged harshly by future generations,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“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,” said Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

Timing Notable

The timing of  the policy shift is certainly notable, to say the least, as NPR recognizes in Trump’s EPA Plans To Ease Carbon Emissions Rule For New Coal Plants:

This latest administration effort to boost fossil fuel industries comes as leaders from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Poland to discuss how to keep greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. And amid reports that CO2 emissions are rising again, as well as the administration’s own report that climate change is causing more severe weather more frequently and could eventually hurt the U.S. economy.

US Coal Plants Declining

Despite the Trump administration rhetoric, the latest move will have little impact on the moribund prospects for the US coal industry, as CNBC notes:

The move is largely symbolic. There are currently no plans to build new coal-fired power plants in the United States. The facilities not only faced higher regulatory burdens during the Obama administration, but stiff competition from cheap, cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

This year, U.S. coal consumption fell to its lowest in 39 years. Between 2007 and 2017, the United States retired 55 gigawatts of its total capacity of 313 gigawatts of coal-fired power. In 2018 alone, another 14 gigawatts are scheduled to come offline.

“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.

Or, to  as the National Resources Defense Council noted more scathingly in  Week 98: Trump Tries Again (and Fails Again) to Save the Coal Industry:

It’s all part of President Trump’s plan to pay lip service to coal miners while doing nothing to integrate them into the 21st-century economy.

So, once the Trump administration rescinds the CCS requirement, we’ll see new coal-burning plants spring up all over the country, right? Wrong. The carbon pollution limit is just one of many obstacles to a coal-fired renaissance. Another, much larger, impediment: basic economics. Coal-burning power plants can’t compete with natural gas or ever-cheaper renewables, and that’s why they’re closing. Why would anyone build a new coal-fired plant when many of the ones we have are sitting idle, unable to sell their energy on the open market? Hundreds of plants have closed since 2010, and the closures are accelerating. In the first 45 days of 2018, more coal capacity was retired than in the first three years of the Obama administration. To boot, we learned this week that Americans are consuming less coal in 2018 than in any year since 1979.

The Bottom Line

Yet put another way, this move surrenders any pretext that this administration will take any action whatsoever to address the looming catastrophe of climate change. Which is chilling- given the crisis we face.

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  1. Fred

    No one is going to build a new coal plant in America with natural gas so cheap. Not to mention NIMBY concerns over pollution. Besides as much as 2/3 of the world’s coal plants are losing money.

    1. Off The Street

      American efforts to change energy market dynamics must include a look at international impacts, starting in the Persian Gulf. Given recent upheavals with MBS, ongoing troubles with Qatar, Yemen and other nearby countries and all-around malign influences of Saudi money, there is a case to be made to reduce that influence.

      One way to change their behaviour is to choke off the flow of funds from oil sales that supports numerous regimelets. Pushing MBS et al to pump more oil and to sell at lower cost, while seeing greater competition from American oil exports, would reduce OPEC influence and take away one source of global instability.

      If that action also encourages Iran to engage further productively with the west, after seeing that its Sunni analog across the Gulf is being forced to do so, then why not try it! Prior belligerence has not worked for almost all of the participants and victims.

      Coal may be a tool to push that initiative, although at potential huge cost to air, water and health in America and in coal-burning countries. If OPEC is reined in, and lower oil prices reduce the demand for coal, then those costs might not, need not be borne as much as feared.

      Pollyanna? Magic bullet? Neither, just more ways of looking at interconnected problems and proposing solutions.

      1. BlakeFelix

        Eh, we can use gas to do anything we can use coal for, cleaner and cheaper. Gas isn’t perfect, but coal is expensive garbage. Energy independence is indeed a good idea, but the time for coal is over unless we can get it cleaner and cheaper, and we forseeably can’t.

    2. you're soaking in it

      Nevertheless, this plays extremely well in the coal producing areas, Appalachia and the Rockies, where Trump is already ramping up 2020 organization. Everybody knows that the power plants aren’t coming back in the U.S., but Lambert put it well; the evil signaling goes a long way; if Trump isn’t really going to help people get back to work, he pays attention to their concerns. And while there won’t be more people working to mine for plants in the U.S., India and China are still building like there’s no tomorrow. So to speak.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      The DC FedRegime and other interested players are working their hardest to elevate the price of natural gas so as to make it so expensive in comparison to coal that coal will become competitive for power plants again. Part of this drive involves plans to make whole new Haber-Bosch nitrogen complexes and whole new plastics production complexes to use up enough natural gas to shortagise the rest. The other part of this drive is to build as many LNG terminals as fast as possible to liquefy and export as much NG as possible so as to shortagise the leftover remainder here in Canadamerica.

      Unless/until some Serious Greenists are able to reconquer all three branches of Federal Governmet, there will be zero change in DC FedRegime policy in favor of engineered shortagisation of natural gas.

      Given that , what are personal greenist members of the Culture of Conservation supposed to do? Each individual greenist can only do what he/she can personally do. Weary cynics can easily argue that an individual effort means nothing. And they would be right. But One Hundred Million Separate Individual Efforts could add up to something. And life is too short to argue with weary cynics about the potential truth of that statement. Those who think it COULD be true IF a Hundred Million Greenists actually DID devote a Hundred Million Individual personally-lived daily lives to withholding as much of their personal little Hundred Million Revenue Trickles from the Great Revenue Stream reaching the natural gas industry . . . . should go right ahead and do what they can to withhold some of their normal and accustomed natural gas money from the natural gas industry.

      How to do that? Use as little electricity as possible consistent with living an okay lifestyle which one could live with for decades to come. The less electricity we pay Big Power for, the less money Big Power has to buy natural gas from Big Gas. And the lower the price of natural gas stays.

      Also, use as little natural gas personally as possible consistent with living an okay lifestyle that one could live with for decades to come. Cook as efficiently as feasible. Accept as low a home heat as one can reasonably live with over the long term. Manipulate one’s home heat up and down so as to use the least gas or electricity per day in keeping the home where you want it to be.

      Also, make as much of your food Certified Organic as personally feasible given your own situation, day after month after year, for the long many-decades haul. And if you garden your own food, learn how to do it without Haber-Bosch Nitrogen. That’s what the Certified Organic growers do . . . is to grow food without Haber-Bosch Nitrogen. And every bit of Haber-Bosch Nitrogen NOT used is a bit of natural gas NOT bought by the Haber-Boschers to beGIN with.

      This thread would be a fine place for people to offer personal ideas, knowledge, etc. on how to use the least natural gas and electricity feasible over the long haul.

  2. rd

    Trump’s presidency is more 1950s than Eisenhower’s. I expect he watches The Rifleman and The Lone Ranger when not watching Fox and Friends.

    1. DHG

      LOL…. His comments on running up the national debt and its implications “Yeah, I won’t be here”. I’m sure it applies to climate change as well.

  3. The Rev Kev

    I am beginning to wonder if the whole business with coal and hard right conservatives is no longer just a business thing but an article of faith or even some sort of talisman. That is, the financial facts and figures are no longer of importance to them but simply using coal is a rebuke or statement to those who fight against climate change. I am seeing the same with the hard right in Australia where they cannot get enough of coal but want to use government money to keep open coal plants that the owners want shut as no longer financially viable. Or even using government money opening up more coal operations that most people do not want. And to think that once conservatives were once associated with good business sense. Would you believe that they have let the Indian mining giant Adani open up a massive coal mine along the Great Barrier Reef? That coal is not for here by the way but for India so that means lots of ships loaded with coal in this area. What could possibly go wrong.

    1. pricklyone

      Like “drill baby drill”, it is promoted as “our energy independence”, yet we are now an oil exporting country, on net.
      And we are gearing up for Nat Gas, as well.
      Money to be made, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I think you are correct. It’s not just about the money. A will-to-power and control motivates the push behind coal — the same drive moving the push to outsource and move production far away where workers cannot push back. Arguments based on money or ‘economics’ often mask other far darker motives and intentions.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      This is exactly correct. Coal Baby Coal is an article of Religious Faith and Practice, and is part of the Cultural War that various Rightists wage and maintain in order to keep the loyalty of their followers and keep power over our political-economic system.

      Pipeline Baby Pipeline and Tar Sandy Tar are other Pillars of Fossil Carbonism.

      The only power that Conservationion Culturists can exert against the Church of Fossil Carbon is their distributed power of additive multitudes of personal revenue-withholders engineering their personal lifestyles however they can so as to attrit and degrade the revenue streams reaching the Coal Cathedral so as to be able to force its eventual abandonment.

    4. drumlin woodchuckles

      I can think of a wonderful false-flag hidden-hand black-advance reverse-propaganda saying which could go on bumperstickers and campaign buttons and elsewhere . . . . designed to drive any conservation-lifestylers who see it to levels of rage and hate.

      And that saying would be . . . . Burn more coal. Make a snowflake cry.

      If millions of copies of that saying showed up on millions of bumper stickers and millions campaign buttons, perhaps millions of snowflakes would cry. And when they got done crying, they would learn to hate. They would learn to cultivate the cold bitter persistent hatred which lasts for decades and which inspires decades of persistent work towards “exterminating” their enemies.

      Every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat.
      Hatred makes the world go ’round.
      With a head full of plans and a heart full of hate, we can make things happen.
      We need a Thousand Points of Hate, launching a Thousand Hate-Based Initiatives against
      the Church of Fossil Carbon.

  4. pricklyone

    “I am beginning to wonder if the whole business with coal and hard right conservatives is no longer just a business thing but an article of faith or even some sort of talisman. That is, the financial facts and figures are no longer of importance to them but simply using coal is a rebuke or statement to those who fight against climate change.”

    This has always been the case. It was never a “business thing”.
    I thought this was obvious, and widely known.
    Remember “rolling coal”? None of this ever had any business purpose, only base-building.

    1. jrs

      well it is a business thing, I mean I’m sure there are campaign contributions, afterall. Is that’s not business, what is? See I’m pretty sure it is not purely about base building (although a Pavlovian base programmed to salivate on demand helps) but corruption as well.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Well . . . there is certainly a business element to it, as you say. But in line with pricklyone’s statement, it is at the very least not JUST a business thing.

  5. Ignacio

    The “Timing Notable” point suggests that this is mainly a message to the international community gathering in Poland: “I don’t give a damn on climate change action”. Someone could argue that there is Russia colusion given Russia is one of the most important fossil fuel exporters.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I heard on NPR that the representatives of the DC FedRegime joined the representatives of 3 other country-governments in preventing any mention of “the newest science” from being mentioned anywhere in any Paris Accord texts to be issued now or later or ever. I believe the other three governments were from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

      I suppose we could call them the Gang Of Four. Or the Dirty Carbon Gang Of Four. Or some other name which can be weaponised and disseminated for viralization across the entire communisphere.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Or the Filthy Four. Or the Filthy Fossil Four. Or the Four Filthy Fossils. Or some such weaponisable disseminatable viralizable name.

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