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EPA Says States Should Decide How To Regulate Emissions From Coal-Fired Power Plants

Jerry Huddleston
Coal shipments leave Wyoming's Powder River Basin, one of the West's primary coal producing regions.

The Trump administration announced a new rule on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, called the ‘Affordable Clean Energy Rule.’ It would put regulatory power in states’ hands.

The Obama administration had previously tried to enact something called the Clean Power Plan, which was considered the country’s primary strategy for lowering emissions to meet its 2030 target under the Paris climate agreement.

The plan never went into effect. First, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016. The Trump administration has been working to get rid of it ever since.

“We are viewing this proposal as Trump's Dirty Power Plan,” says Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “There’s a long history of litigation in the Supreme Court that says the EPA basically has a responsibility to address climate pollution and what the Trump administration is doing with this Dirty Power Plan is setting no limits or standards at all for carbon pollution.”

On top of that, she says, the proposed rule wouldn’t save the coal industry from its decline, including here in the Mountain West.    

“The Rocky Mountain West is home to a fairly large coal fleet and a lot of those are teetering on the edge financially,” she says. “This move by Trump really isn't going to extend the life or change the fortunes of coal plants in the West. The big factors that will determine the fate of those coal plants are competition from other energy sources, namely renewable energy, and the demand for that renewable energy from the public.”

But the move is welcome news to those in the coal industry.

“The Obama rule was intended to put coal fired power plants out of business,” says Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Mining Association.

Dempsey says this replacement rule is good for coal because it doesn’t require a national shift away from coal-fired electricity, and because it allows states to decide how to regulate emissions.

“Coal is a very important economic contributor to the Mountain West. Whether it be in Colorado or neighboring states, we produce property tax, we produce federal royalties," he says. "We employ 1,200 people in Colorado. Those are high-paying jobs and coal continues and will be an important element of our energy mix.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, the number of people employed by coal mines in the West has been declining since 2013.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the new rule once it’s posted in the Federal Register.

The Environmental Protection Agency declined an interview request for this story.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Rae Ellen Bichell was a reporter for KUNC and the Mountain West News Bureau from 2018 to 2020.
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