The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday announced its intention to change course on restricting emissions from coal-fired power plants, giving states much broader authority to set restrictions.
The rule would reverse an Obama Administration policy that set federal restrictions. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposal “would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans.”
The proposal drew warnings from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and officials in other states that this could lead to air quality problems for states that are downwind from such facilities.
Malloy also said in a statement that the new policy will have negative effects on climate change.
“It’s not a far-off problem; it’s here and we see the effects every day,” he said in a statement. “Weather patterns are more powerful and unpredictable than ever. Western states are beset by devastating drought and unprecedented wildfires.”
The EPA’s announcement, the result of an executive order from President Donald Trump, kicks off a public comment period prior to any final decision by the agency.
The U.S. Supreme Court stopped the Obama Administration from enforcing his rule in 2016 amid a challenge from 27 states, 24 trade associations, 37 rural electric co-ops, and three labor unions.
The EPA maintains that it would continue to play a role in reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants, even under its proposed new rule. The agency, for example, would recommend a “best system of emission reduction.” provide a list of “candidate technologies” that could be incorporated into state plans, and encourage efficiencies at existing power plants.
The proposal also fits with a broader view by Trump’s EPA that it doesn’t have any general legal requirements to address climate change.
"An important part of what we're doing here is getting us back into our lane," said Bill Wehrum, head of the EPA's air quality office.
That stance drew a strong rebuke from Connecticut and other states.
“Climate change is the most significant energy and environmental issue we face today, and the Trump administration’s relentless effort to repeal, weaken or delay national rules intended to protect public health and the environment flies in the face of everything we in Connecticut hold dear,” said Rob Klee, head of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Malloy noted EPA’s own models forecast that the proposed changes would do less for public health than those from the Obama Administration.
Models provided by the agency estimate that under the Trump plan, 300 to 1,500 premature deaths would be avoided a year by 2030. The Obama plan says 1,500 and 3,600 premature deaths would be avoided.
Malloy and Connecticut have fought the EPA over enforcement in the past. A federal judge in July sided with Connecticut and New York in a complaint that the EPA has failed to enforce requirements under the 2008 Clean Air Act.
The two states argued in the suit that their residents suffered the effects of air pollution produced in other states because the EPA failed to enforce the requirements.