Trump Administration Rolls Back Obama Clean Power Plan

Tom Johnson | October 11, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Immediate effects on New Jersey limited, but environmentalists call for state to become a leader in fighting carbon pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
The Trump administration yesterday formally moved to repeal an Obama regulation to curb carbon pollution from power plants, a rule New Jersey and more than two dozen other states successfully sought to block in court.

U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to dismantle the signature environmental achievement of the prior administration and the key component of its efforts to combat climate change. It never took effect due to extensive litigation.

The decision, viewed by proponents as reviving the nation’s struggling coal sector, will have little immediate impact in New Jersey, where the last two major coal plants shut down this past June and there is a strong push to shift to cleaner ways of producing electricity.

But Pruitt said the rule exceeded the agency’s statutory authority, so much so that the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling, “preventing its devastating effects to be imposed on the American people’’ while the issue is challenged in court.

Rolling back

The proposal, the latest step in a series of measures to roll back initiatives that deal with climate change by the administration, drew condemnation from state and federal lawmakers and environmentalists, who argued it would increase air pollution and hinder the nation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Today, they have not stopped a war, but started one—the on the environment and the future generations who will have to deal with a warming climate and more destructive super storms,’’ said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex).

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) called the move a major step backward that will result in more extreme weather and greater costs to our economy in the long run. “Sticking our heads in the sand and acting like the problem doesn’t exist is plainly dangerous and short-sighted,’’ he said.

At one time, New Jersey had sued the agency, trying it to force it to tackle global warming through its regulatory authority. The Christie administration reversed that course, joining 27 other states in challenging the rule adopted by the Obama administration, which sought steep reductions in carbon pollution from power plants. The state never bothered to adopt a strategy to implement the Clean Power Plan.

Unhappy business execs

Many business executives also opposed the plan, saying New Jersey had already taken steps to limit pollution from power plants, noting it is already below levels targeted for reductions by 2020.

“The rule was unfair to New Jersey,’’ said Sara Bluhm, a vice president at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “It didn’t provides us any credit for our considerable reductions in emissions prior to 2012, and we were strapped with some of the most stringent goals, all of which would have a negative effect on how competitive our in-state generation could be with other states.’’

For environmentalists, the rule makes it more urgent for the state to transform its energy reliance from one heavily reliant on fossil fuels, like natural gas and petroleum. They argue, and many industry analysts concur, the shift away from coal to natural gas is driven more by economics than anything else and more competitive prices for solar and winds power.

“The energy markets are fundamentally changing. We need states like New Jersey to push clean-energy solutions forward,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

Many former state officials and business executives agree. They have urged New Jersey’s next governor to adopt an agenda that promotes cleaner sources of energy, like offshore wind and solar, as well as increased investment in energy efficiency.

David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action of New Jersey, agreed. “From a New Jersey perspective, nothing they are doing at the federal level prevents the state from acting,’’ he said. “If anything, it make its more important for New Jersey in the absence of federal leadership.’’