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Greenhouse Gases

Trump drops, replaces Obama-era regulations to cut coal CO2 emission

Coal-fired power plants will be able to meet requirements with existing technology

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
June 20, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 25


Carbon dioxide emissions from US coal-fired electric power plants will be allowed to continue unabated for at least 4 more years under the Trump administration’s final Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule issued June 19 by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule gives states 3 years to develop and the EPA 1 year to approve approaches to comply with new power-plant efficiency requirements. Those requirements include reducing the amount of fuel used to generate a kilowatt-hour of electricity.


Gigatons of carbon dioxide emitted from energy production worldwide in 2018, a historic high, according to a report from Climate Action Tracker. More than one-third of these emissions were from coal, although the fastest growing source is natural gas, the report says

The ACE rule replaces tougher regulations set by the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was intended to reduce coal-based emissions. The CPP regulations are currently on hold under a court-ordered stay.

Speaking before an audience of coal-state Congress members, coal miners wearing hard hats, and coal and electricity industry representatives, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, himself a former coal lobbyist, stressed the importance of coal to the economy and the need to replace the CPP. In this ceremony, he was joined by 16 other speakers who underscored the campaign promise of President Donald J. Trump to protect the US coal industry.

Under ACE, coal-fired power plants may comply with the EPA’s efficiency guidelines using technologies already in place at newer coal-fired power plants, according to the agency.

Obama’s CPP set emission standards that could require carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), emission trading, or other advanced approaches to meet CO2 emission reductions. Wheeler and other aides specifically said states could not incorporate CCS techniques or emission trading to meet ACE requirements.

EPA officials and documents stressed that Obama’s CPP was an unachievable and illegal “fantasy.”

The EPA under both Obama and Trump predicted that their regulations would each reduce CO2 emissions from the electricity sector 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. To curb global warming impacts, CO2 emissions from the US electricity sector must fall 74% from 2005 levels by 2030, an International Energy Agency official tells C&EN.



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