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.
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.