Clean air advocates traveled to Chicago on Monday to attend the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) only public hearing on its proposal to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a much less stringent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The Trump EPA’s proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule would fail to require adequate greenhouse gas reductions from both states and power plants, according to the plan’s critics. The EPA also found that the proposed rule would increase illness and premature death, compared to the Clean Power Plan.
Starting in 2030, replacing the Clean Power Plan with the ACE rule could result in up to 1,400 more premature deaths and up to 120,000 more asthma attacks every year, according to the EPA’s own analysis.
The EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy rule is neither “clean” nor “affordable,” David Doniger, a long-time environmental attorney and senior strategic director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean energy program, is expected to say at the public hearing.
In his prepared testimony, Doniger said the new plan would mean “more climate-changing carbon pollution and more emissions that produce deadly fine particles and ozone smog.”
The EPA’s analysis shows the proposed plan could cause up to 1,630 more deaths in 2030 — and a similar toll in years before and after — compared to the the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, released in 2015, established a nationwide limit on carbon emission from existing power plants that was expected to result in a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. The plan also would have other positive impacts such as reducing deadly soot and smog.
The Trump administration released its proposed ACE rule in August as part of an effort to roll back President Barack Obama’s signature plan to tackle the power generation sector’s impact on climate change. The replacement plan would reduce emissions between 0.7 and 1.5 percent in the same time frame, according to the administration.
But the ACE rule doesn’t include any numerical standards or targets for states to reduce power plant greenhouse gas emissions. This means states will have wide latitude to establish their own performance targets. The Clean Power Plan, on the other hand, established numerical emissions reduction targets for states.
Upon its release last month, the administration touted the ACE rule for its ability to “significantly decrease bureaucratic red tape and compliance costs, keeping American energy affordable and competitive on the world stage.”
The EPA forecast the ACE rule would reduce compliance costs for power plant operators by up to $400 million per year when compared to the Clean Power Plan.
The agency published the proposed ACE rule in the Federal Register on August 31, officially opening a 60-day public comment period on the proposal. Comments must be received by October 31.
The one-day hearing in Chicago will be the only one the EPA holds on its proposed ACE rule. The Obama administration held four two-day public hearings — in Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. — to receive comments on its proposed Clean Power Plan.
“The EPA’s hearing, like its plan, is nothing short of sham,” Ben Ishibashi, climate justice organizer with Chicago-based People’s Action, said Monday in a statement. “We know the Trump administration has no intention of listening to the pleas of working class people and people of color who are simply asking for the right to breathe clean air in their homes and neighborhoods.”
Early in the hearing, almost two dozen protesters organized by People’s Action entered the hearing room at the federal building in Chicago. They disrupted the hearing for about 15 minutes before agreeing to a police order to leave the room. After reconvening following the protest, the hearing was scheduled to continue until 8 p.m. Central time.
Hundreds of protesters also rallied outside the federal building in downtown Chicago. At the rally, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan pledged to take legal action to overturn the ACE rule if the Trump administration succeeds in implementing it.
— Trisha Sheehan (@Trish536) October 1, 2018
Michael Mikulka, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, the union representing 800 EPA employees in Chicago and across the Midwest, told the rally-goers that the ACE rule will further delay the implementation of cuts in power plant carbon emissions.
States will have three additional years to submit plans on how they will meet the provisions under the ACE rule, Mikulka said at the rally. If a state plan is not suitable, the EPA will have two years to draft a federal implementation plan for the state under the ACE rule as opposed to only six months under the Clean Power Plan.
“It makes absolutely no sense to dismantle our best climate policies, especially as the impacts of climate change become more frequent and severe,” Environment America’s global warming senior director Andrea McGimsey said Monday in a statement. “It wasn’t until 2015 that the Obama administration put in place the Clean Power Plan to finally ratchet down emissions from our power plants. Going backwards now would be a terrible mistake.”
Also on Monday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) sent a letter to Andrew Wheeler, acting EPA administrator, expressing opposition to the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
The ACE rule lacks requirements that states engage environmental justice and community groups in their plan development process, Duckworth said in her letter. It also fails to encourage states to conduct environmental justice analyses of their own as they develop their state implementation plans.
This Clean Power Plan, on the other hand, “was the culmination of robust and rigorous public participation and EPA received millions of comments supporting the program from states, utilities, communities of color, tribes, environmental groups, labor unions and the public at large,” Duckworth said.
Harold Wimmer, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association, submitted comments to the EPA on Monday questioning why the Trump administration is proposing to abandon public health safeguard against power plant pollution.
“The longer our nation’s leaders delay cleaning up the pollutants driving climate change, the greater the health costs will be from degraded air quality and more extreme weather threats, such as wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding,” Wimmer said in his comments.
"The @EPA has proposed repealing the #CleanPowerPlan, the nation's first limits on the nearly two billion tons of climate-changing carbon pollution coming from power plants each year, and replacing it with a #DirtyPowerPlan," @ddonigernrdc https://t.co/r9pCYrsHCk
— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC) October 1, 2018
In his testimony, Doniger emphasized that under every scenario the EPA analyzed, the Affordable Clean Energy rule would result in more emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide than the Clean Power Plan. Under some scenarios, compliance with the ACE rule would cost more and achieves less than the original Clean Power Plan.
“But,” Doniger said, “Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, and air program chief Bill Wehrum, a former power industry lawyer, have only one objective: to weaken the Clean Power Plan at the behest of coal barons and backward-looking remnants of the power industry.”