Two national health organizations have filed a lawsuit this week to prevent the Trump administration from implementing an air emissions rule that could result in increased air pollution and premature deaths in Indiana and the rest of the country.
The American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association filed the lawsuit to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and the implementation of the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule. The suit asks the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the new rule.
Announced in 2015, the Clean Power Plan sought to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and steer the nation towards clean energy and fossil fuel alternatives. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule places the power to set these guidelines in the hands of the states, which could result in higher air pollution levels and negative health consequences for Hoosiers.
Instead of focusing on clean energy, the ACE Rule seeks to improve the efficiency of coal-fired power plants and set guidelines for states to regulate emissions and plant efficiency.
Critics of the ACE Rule say it would allow states to adopt lax emissions controls and endanger the lives of at-risk groups like children and the elderly.
“As affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, EPA has legal authority and obligation under the Clean Air Act to protect and preserve public health and welfare, including by regulating carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants,” the groups said in a statement. “However, it is simply not lawful for EPA to use its legal authority in ways that will increase dangerous air pollutants and harm the health of Americans.”
The EPA’s own estimates show the additional pollution allowed by the ACE Rule could result in about 1,400 more premature deaths and tens of thousands more instances of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses every year by 2030.
“In addition to increasing the carbon dioxide pollution that fuels climate change, independent research from 2019 predicts that the ACE rule will result in some fossil fuel plants running more often and delaying their retirement, which would mean increased emissions of dangerous pollution as compared to the Clean Power Plan, and even as compared to no rule at all,” the groups said.
Indiana ranks eighth in the nation for coal production. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says about one-fourth of the 30 million tons of coal the state produces every year is shipped to a dozen other states. Coal-fired power plants produced about 69% of the state’s electricity in 2018.
The fate of the ACE Rule and the Clean Power Plan’s repeal could have a great impact on the Indiana economy, and state officials seem determined to make sure state regulators have emissions control autonomy.
In October 2018, the state submitted its suggestions for the proposed ACE Rule. In addition to asking for clarity in affected units, timing requirements and performance standards, the state expressed its gratitude for the new administration’s attempt to give more emissions regulations powers to states.
“Indiana strongly supports U.S. EPA’s interpretation that its primary role is to provide emissions guidelines to states, who then are responsible for the development of standards of performance for sources and subsequent state plans implementing those standards of performance,” state officials wrote to the EPA. “States should take a leading role in the development of standards of performance because each state differs from one another and thus, states are in the best position to decide what constitutes adequate standards of performance for their affected sources.”
During the ACE Rule comment period, Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Bruno Pigott and utility and energy officials called the Obama-era Clean Power Plan a “vast overreach of authority” by the EPA and expressed support for a repeal with no replacement. The officials said it was the state of Indiana’s position that Congress never intended for greenhouse gases to be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
“This rule is a significant economic burden on both affected sources and ratepayers, who would most likely see a substantial increase in utility bills due to rate recovery by sources,” said the officials. “Hoosiers, especially those in lower socioeconomic brackets, would be affected the most by this rule and could lose heat and power because they would not be able to pay for rising utility costs.”
Utility costs may rise even with a Clean Power Plan repeal. Duke Energy is petitioning the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to be allowed to raise rates by 19%. Northern Indiana Public Service Company has also petitioned the IURC to raise rates by about 12% per month and increase the existing, fixed monthly customer charge by $3 a month.
The repeal of the Clean Power Plan could cost some Hoosiers their lives and worsen the living conditions of many others, according to the EPA.
Indiana ranks 44th in the nation for air pollution. The state’s capital, Indianapolis, is consistently ranked as one of the worst for air pollution. The American Lung Association, one of the two groups involved in filing the lawsuit, gave the city an “F” grade for ozone pollution and ranked the city 55th most polluted in the country. The Indianapolis/Carmel/Muncie area was ranked 19th worst in the country for year-round particle pollution.
The American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association say they filed the lawsuit because climate change is already harming the health of people in the United States and could get worse under the ACE Rule.
“EPA’s decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with the ACE Rule continues to disregard the vast health consequences of climate change and puts more lives at risk,” said the groups in a statement. “Our organizations remain committed to fight to protect public health in the United States from EPA’s continued efforts to roll back these protections.”