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Trump Administration Repeals Clean Power Plan

The Trump administration on Tuesday issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that calls for the Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state carbon reduction targets for power plants, to be repealed.

“The Obama administration pushed the bounds of their authority so far with the CPP that the Supreme Court issued a historic stay of the rule, preventing its devastating effects to be imposed on the American people while the rule is being challenged in court,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt. “We are committed to righting the wrongs of the Obama administration by cleaning the regulatory slate. Any replacement rule will be done carefully, properly, and with humility, by listening to all those affected by the rule.”

Former Obama-era EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was surprised that the Trump administration issued a repeal without a proposal for a new rule.

“… I was surprised that they decided to repeal the rule without proposing anything else in its stead, because, as the science dictates and as the law dictates, the EPA’s obligated to regulate carbon pollution from this sector,” McCarthy said. “So it surprises me that they weren’t a little bit more sensitive to the court challenges and what the courts have been telling EPA for many years, which is, you need to regulate this.”

The notice argues that the Obama administration exceeded the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act when it issued the Clean Power Plan in 2015. But in doing so, the Trump administration’s proposal appears to push off the EPA’s obligation to regulate greenhouse gases in the near future. It proposes to withdraw the rule to avoid a D.C. Circuit Court decision on precisely the question that is used to justify the withdrawal—whether it can set targets for greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act based on efforts that can be made outside of the power plant. The addition of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adds an additional administrative step that only delays action further.

To avoid unnecessary delays surrounding how to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, I stated that the D.C. Circuit Court could rule on the legality of the Clean Power Plan. If a new Trump rule were finalized, the same issues would once again come before the same court, but with the parties switching places, with the defenders of the Obama rule challenging the Trump rule, and vice versa. A decision now would clear up any dispute over the extent of EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The rule was stayed by the Supreme Court in February 2016 before it took effect. Dozens of states, however, are already making progress toward Clean Power Plan emissions targets. New analysisfrom the research firm Rhodium Group breaks down which states appear to be still on track to meet their Clean Power Plan targets even after repeal and which are not. Nationwide, the group projectedthat emissions from electricity would fall 27 to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 even without the plan—but they could have declined even further if the rule had gone into effect.

Wheeler Nominated to EPA

President Donald Trump nominated Andrew Wheeler as deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A former top aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and lobbyist for energy companies, Wheeler has been the long-rumored pick to fill the EPA’s number two job.

“Andrew will bring extraordinary credentials to EPA that will greatly assist the Agency as we work to implement our agenda,” said EPA head Scott Pruitt in the White House announcement. “He has spent his entire career working to improve environmental outcomes for Americans across the country and understands the importance of providing regularity certainty for our country.”

Wheeler spent six years as the Republicans’ chief counsel and staff director on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Inhofe chaired. He also served at the EPA during the early 1990s.

Until he de-registered himself in August, Wheeler was a lobbyist for Murray Energy, the nation’s largest privately owned coal company. It’s not clear if his lobbying status will require a waiver by the EPA—Trump signed an executive order in January that prevents registered lobbyists from participating in “any particular matter” on which they lobbied in the past two years. But the executive order says the administration can grant a waiver.

As Pruitt Calls to End Renewables Credits, Study Showcases Oil Industry’s Dependence on Subsidies

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Monday called on legislators to put an early end to tax credits for renewables (subscription).

“I would do away with these incentives that we give to the wind industry,” Pruitt said. “I’d let them stand on their own and compete against coal, natural gas and other sources. Let utility companies make real-time market decisions on those kinds of things, as opposed to being propped up through tax incentives and other types of credits that occur both at the federal and state level.”

Pruitt was referring to two tax credits approved by Congress in 2015: a 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt hour wind industry tax credit expiring in 2020 and a 30 percent solar industry tax credit expiring in 2022. He did not mention that competing energy sources like coal, oil and natural gas also benefit from billions of dollars in tax credits.

study published in the journal Nature Energy finds that at the current price of $50 a barrel, nearly half the as-yet-to-be-developed crude oil fields in the United States are profitable when otherwise they would not be.

“Our analysis suggests that oil resources may be much more dependent on subsidies than previously thought, at least at prices near US$50 per barrel,” said the authors.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.