By Dave Smith, Senior Contributor, US Daily Review.
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
The Trump Administration has announced a new rule that lightens regulations on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from coal-fired power plants. The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule replaces the Obama Administration’s more restrictive Clean Power Plan (CPP), another example of President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency rolling back regulations imposed by President Obama.
The CPP, announced in June of 2014 and finalized in 2015, had not even taken effect yet – upon announcement, “27 states, 24 trade associations, 37 rural electric co-ops, and three labor unions” immediately filed lawsuits to block the measure, and the implementation is on hold by order of the Supreme Court until those lawsuits are decided. The goal of the program was to decrease GHG emissions – specifically carbon dioxide – by 32% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. The CPP rules, written under the auspices of the Clear Air Act,
Electricity generation from coal hit its peak in 1990, when nearly 60% of U.S. electricity came from coal-fired power plants, and has been decreasing as a fraction since then with the rise of natural gas as an power-producing fuel; this trend was accelerated as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling techniques brought plentiful supplies of inexpensive natural gas to the marketplace. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, that trend has resulted in coal accounting for just 30% of American electricity production in 2017, with natural gas providing 32%; nuclear and renewables account for 20% and 17%, respectively.
This market-based move from coal to natural gas – fracking has resulted in a nearly seven-fold decrease in price – has had other benefits. According to the EPA, Carbon dioxide emissions hit a 22-year low in 2016 and have declined over 13% since 2007, with electricity generation contributing only 28% of CO2 emissions – the lowest level seen since the EPA started monitoring these levels in 1990 – as CO2 from electricity generation has been cut by nearly 25%.
Martial and hyperbolic language surrounding the endeavor is found on both sides. California Governor Jerry Brown literally called the move a “declaration of war against America and all of humanity”. Various Democrats called the plan “egregious”, a “Dirty Power Scam” that will “harm human health”, a “betrayal”, and other pejoratives; several have reiterated claims that the CPP “would have prevented 3600 premature deaths per year”. Groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, League of Conservation Voters, NAACP, and various environmental groups denounced the Administration’s action.
Meanwhile, President Trump claims that his Administration has “ended the war on coal” and stresses “American dominance”, while various Republicans praised the move, claiming that it provides “flexibility” and protects “high-paying energy jobs”, criticizing the Obama plan as “intrusive” and “far-left”, and calling the announcement “a very good day”. Groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Americans for Tax Reform, and Institute for Energy Research signed a joint letter in support of ending the CPP.
Despite the hyperbole on both sides, the long-term impact of the Trump Administration rollback is likely to be limited. Analysts note that coal was, as mentioned above, declining in importance as fuel for electricity generation in the United States as natural gas continues to flourish, and even the CEO of the largest privately held coal company in the U.S. says that President Trump should “temper his expectations” on the return of coal jobs. Calculated estimates on deaths from air pollutants are filled with assumptions that coal plants would not continue to be replaced by natural gas absent the more stringent regulations, even though the movement from coal to natural gas predates the Clean Power Plan proposal by nearly two decades.
Regardless of whether or not the Clean Power Plan is ultimately enacted (the Trump Administration’s own proposal is now subject to public comment and will most likely face lawsuits as well), neither the negativity of the naysayers nor the promises of the promoters will likely be observed. Coal’s ship has sailed. The “sound and fury” are misplaced.
Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave found his way to Texas where he works in the petrochemical industry. He’s written and spoken about politics on various media outlets including Fox, ABC, and Townhall. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. Follow Dave on Twitter: @semperlibertas.