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Policy Summary

In response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13873, Andrew Wheeler, Trump appointed Environmental Protection Agency administrator, announced the introduction of the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule that will replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CCP), which was stayed by the supreme court in 2016.

According to the EPA’s fact sheet, the ACE is comprised of two distinct acts: the repeal of the CCP, and the introduction of new emissions standards and guidelines for implementation on a state-by-state basis.

Citing the 2016 supreme court decision, Wheeler and the EPA claim that the CCP was an overreach of the Agency’s jurisdiction and set unrealistic goals. Hence, the ACE is meant to address what it sees as a federal overreach and to outline achievable and realistic goals.

The second part of the ACE is to set new regulatory guidelines for emission standards that are to be based on provisions introduced at the state level. States will have three years to submit plans for emissions regulation to be approved by the EPA.

The explicit goals of these new regulations are to provide the affordability of coal-fired electricity while gradually reducing emissions. The EPA estimates that ACE will cover hundreds of coal plants across the country, prolonging the life-span of coal-fired energy.

Policy Analysis

There are two problematic features of the EPA’s final ACE regulation. The first is that it dilutes the language behind the policies needed to address man-made climate change. The second problem is that the rule ignores the viability and safety of alternative energy sources.

In their recent press briefing, Wheeler and the EPA described their new regulations in a way that emphasizes the importance of emissions reduction while at the same time sustaining reliance coal based energy as a means to pursue it. This is a contradiction in terms. Trump’s new regulation cannot have its cake and eat it too. By suggesting that relaxing regulations of coal-fired electricity will be a means to reduce emissions, the EPA under President Trump completely equivocates. Reducing emissions becomes a euphemism that means either nothing much or increased use of coal based energy.

Recently Masha Gessen wrote about a similar semantic phenomenon connected to the Trump appointee to the position of director of policy planning at the State Department. In her article Gessen points out that the directors use of empty and meaningless language based on lose descriptions of the President’s hunches undermines the power to create a stable political reality. It is the same in the case of the EPA. If federal agencies continue to couch environmentally damaging decisions in hunches from the President, there will no longer be reality behind the policy of federal agencies.

In an article published last month in the New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, frames a new conception of peak oil that predicts a sea change in the viability of alternative energy sources. Citing the abrupt bankruptcy of Peabody coal in 2016 and a 50% drop in the price of alternative energy in India. The difference in price of wind and solar compared to coal energy sources in emerging economies belies the Trump administration’s argument. Presumably wide and solar energy can be similarly affordable in the US.

Resistance Resources:

Photo by: unsplash-logoNick Nice

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