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Fossil Fuel Industry Pushes For Clean Power Plan Replacement


The Trump administration repealed President Obama's signature climate plan this fall. The fossil fuel industry cheered that move. It had spent years fighting limits on power plant emissions. Now some fossil fuel companies are worried because so far it's not clear exactly how or even whether the administration will replace the Clean Power Plan. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The most vocal critics of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan are in the coal industry, chief among them Bob Murray, head of coal company Murray Energy. He testified at a public hearing in West Virginia last month.


BOB MURRAY: The Clean Power Plan would devastate coal-fired electricity generation in America as well as the United States' coal industry.

BRADY: Coal companies are struggling mainly because of competition from cheaper natural gas, but the Clean Power Plan gets much of the blame even though it's never really been in effect because of court challenges. Critics argue the Obama administration overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act when it crafted the plan.

While Murray wants this centerpiece of Obama's environmental legacy repealed outright, others in the fossil fuel business find themselves lobbying for new regulations to replace it. Scott Segal directs the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council which represents utilities such as Duke Energy and Southern Company. These businesses invest billions of dollars in long-term projects, and Segal says they want certainty about what the rules will be.

SCOTT SEGAL: We won't always have the same administration in place, and so it's important to directionally have some indication of where the government would like to go. It's also important to reduce the prospects of what I would call frivolous litigation.

BRADY: Segal says if the government is somehow regulating power plants for climate change, that makes it more difficult for environmental groups to bring lawsuits. The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for comments on new regulations and signaling they'll be more narrowly focused. Janet McCabe of Indiana University is a former EPA official who led the creation of the Clean Power Plan during the Obama administration. She says the issue got a full review the first time around, and starting the process over again wastes valuable time.

JANET MCCABE: Most people would say we already have run out of time to avoid any impacts of excess carbon in the atmosphere. It's already warmer. Storms are already more extreme. There's already sea level rise and more flooding. So we better get busy.

BRADY: McCabe says one silver lining to all this is that even without the Obama plan in place, carbon emissions from power plants are down. Natural gas burns cleaner. And since it's cheaper, generators across the country are still switching away from burning coal. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.