EPA Finalizes Controversial Air Pollution Plan

Proponents say the ACE rule gives states more power, but critics say the plan could result in more pollution and premature deaths.
June 21, 2019

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule it says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-powered plants across the country. Critics say the rule could increase air pollution and endanger lives in Indiana and the rest of the country.

The Affordable Clean Energy rule repeals the Clean Power Plan, which was approved by the Obama administration but was halted by the Supreme Court in 2016.

The EPA currently projects that the ACE rule will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 by about 11 million tons, resulting in at least $570 million in combined domestic climate benefits and ancillary health co-benefits.

The EPA also says carbon dioxide emissions will fall by as much as 35% below 2005 levels in 2030 due to the ACE rule and industry trends.

“Unlike the Clean Power Plan, ACE adheres to the Clean Air Act and gives states the regulatory certainty they need to continue to reduce emissions and provide a dependable, diverse supply of electricity that all Americans can afford,” said EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Coal-fired plants burn coal in order to produce power. When that coal is burned, toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases like mercury, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and other particulate matter is released into the air.

The more coal is burned, the more toxic pollutants are released into the air we breathe.

The rule mainly seeks to improve the efficiency of coal-fired power plants. That means plants will have to burn less coal to get comparative amounts of power, technically reducing the amount of pollutants and greenhouse gases released into the air.

But coal efficiency will most likely make coal cheaper, resulting in increased use. Some studies have found that the ACE rule could lead to many plants emitting more carbon dioxide by 2030 than if there was no plan at all.

The ACE rule gives states three years to develop and submit plans to limit carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants, and sets guidelines for them to follow.

This is a photo of an Indiana power plant.
The ACE rule gives states three years to develop plans to limit carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants.

The rule’s proponents, mostly involved in mining and power utilities, say the rule is an industry-friendly way to reduce emissions.

“ACE strengthens regulatory and investment certainty using a sensible and legally defensible ‘within the fence line’ approach to improve efficiencies of existing power plants,” said coal company Peabody Energy in a statement.

The company operates four mines in Indiana: Bear Run Mine in Sullivan County, Francisco and Somerville Central mines in Gibson County, and Wil Boar Mine in Warrick County.

“The proposed rule offers technically feasible and appropriate measures with the potential to deliver cost-effective, achievable and practical solutions for reducing emissions while minimizing disruptions to electricity generation,” the company wrote.

The coal industry stands to benefit from the rule’s implementation, which may affect the Indiana economy. Indiana coal companies directly employ nearly 15,000 mine, support and transportation workers. Companies in Indiana mined more than 33 million tons of coal in 2018.

Critics of the ACE rule say it prioritizes profits at the expense of Americans’ health.

By the EPA’s own estimates, additional pollution allowed by the ACE rule could result in up to 1,400 more premature deaths every year by 2030.

A group of 15 health and medical organizations like the American Lung Association, the Children’s Environmental Health Network and the American Heart Association, banded together to speak out against the rule.

“EPA’s decision to finalize the ACE rule means that more Americans will experience illness and early death – plain and simple,” the group wrote. “Our organizations are committed to fighting climate change and will be taking action to protect our families from the disastrous outcomes of the Administration’s decision today.”

Environmental advocacy groups like the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council have promised to take the Trump administration to court to prevent the ACE rule from being implemented.

“President Trump’s dirty power scheme would do nothing to address the rising economic costs and the increasing dangers wrought by climate change,” said NRDC president Rhea Suh. “Instead, it would give polluters free rein and doom future generations to a dangerously hostile world. That’s an approach America can ill afford – and we’ll go to court to stop it.”

EPA Finalizes Controversial Air Pollution Plan