EPA pollution plan stalls progress on climate change

A Tennessee Valley Authority power plant along the Cumberland River. (© Roger Smith)

Today the Trump administration released its replacement to a federal plan to tackle climate change and, as predicted, the industry-friendly alternative does a much worse job tackling greenhouse gas emissions and dismisses serious health benefits from reduced air pollution.

As opposed to the landmark 2015 federal plan to significantly reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, the administration’s so-called “Affordable Clean Energy Rule” would result in minimal carbon reductions at a time when climate change impacts are intensifying. The proposal targets such paltry carbon benchmarks that many think they’re already easily within industry reach as markets shift to cleaner, cheaper energy alternatives.

“This is another frustrating display of anti-climate government action that will hurt communities in the South who are already suffering from extreme weather and flooding due to climate change, on top of coal-fired air pollution,” said Senior Attorney Will Cleveland. “It’s a do-nothing gift to industry executives, and this is especially hard for our region which in many ways has the most to lose in terms of climate impacts.”

Historically, utilities in Southern states have relied heavily on coal to produce electricity and the resulting decades of pollution have saddled generations of Southerners with poor air and, often, poor health. Plus, the coastal South is home to some of the most vulnerable places in the country when it comes to rising waters, a problem made worse by heat-trapping emissions. Charleston, South Carolina, and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia are experiencing some of the East Coast’s worst routine flooding from rising seas.

“This administration is trying to prop up an industry that can no longer compete against cleaner, cheaper energy sources. Such a political stunt puts people’s lives at risk without providing any economic advantage,” said Cleveland.

In recent years, coal as a percentage of state power generation has dropped significantly in the South as market forces change the energy mix. From 2001 to 2017, coal use in the South plummeted:

  • Alabama: 58 percent to 22 percent
  • Georgia: 63 percent to 25 percent
  • North Carolina: 62 to 27 percent
  • South Carolina: 41 percent to 19 percent
  • Tennessee: 62 percent to 35 percent
  • Virginia: 51 percent to 12 percent

The final rule did not include New Source Review standards, a controversial proposal to weaken existing permitting requirements for upgrades at power plants, which the administration indicated it would finalize in the coming months.

“Over a decade ago, the Southern Environmental Law Center won a unanimous decision at the United States Supreme Court to close New Source Review loopholes, resulting in a dramatic improvement in Southern air quality, and we will not stand by while this administration guts this critical safeguard,” said Cleveland.

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