New rules from the Environmental Protection Agency give states the power to set their own goals for greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Affordable Clean Energy rule, or ACE, replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
Without Clear Limits, What Will The State Goals Be?
In a press conference on Tuesday, EPA officials said every plan will be approved by the EPA, but that there’s “no lower limit” that states have to set their emissions standards above. Last year, Indiana passed a law that said the state couldn’t enact environmental rules more stringent than federal ones without a review.
Indiana University McKinney School of Law professor Janet McCabe helped form the Clean Power Plan under President Barack Obama. She says, if the state decides to go with the federal standard for greenhouse gas emissions, she’s not sure what that would mean for Indiana.
"It’s not clear that the EPA is setting a minimum here. It’s saying to the states you pick the technologies that are best and we’ll review that," says McCabe.
The EPA says that, because industries have already begun to reduce their environmental impact, the new rule would cut about as much emissions as the Clean Power Plan. McCabe disagrees. She says that even with today's sustainability efforts, the CPP would still have reduced emissions by another 19 percent whereas the EPA estimated this new plan will reduce them by less than two percent.
Hope For Indiana's Coal Industry
While the Clean Power Plan focused more on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through renewable energy, the ACE rule would instead work to make coal-fired power plants more efficient. Indiana Coal Council President Bruce Stevens says more efficient plants often run longer — and that could be a game-changer for Indiana utilities that are planning to shutter their coal plants.
“Now they can go back and revisit and determine if the coal plant running into the future is more economical and in the best interest of the ratepayer," he says.
McCabe says the ACE proposal could also make it so some aging coal plants have so little of their useful life left that states do not have to impose emissions restrictions on those plants. However, McCabe doubts that the rule will have as much of an impact on coal plants that are closing. After all, she says that the market largely drove coal's decline, not environmental laws.
Stevens says if the Clean Power Plan was implemented, it would have decreased the use of Indiana coal by about 10 million tons — resulting in the loss of thousands of coal mining jobs.
Indiana's Historic Fight Against The Clean Power Plan
Before it was finalized, Indiana and several other states filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan. The states claimed that the EPA was overstepping its bounds and doesn't have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal under the Clean Air Act.
After it became law, the U.S. Supreme Court put the rule on hold in 2016. As a result, the Clean Power Plan was never enforced. McCabe says to this day no one knows for sure why the court took that action.
The EPA will take public comments on the ACE rule for 60 days from when it's officially posted and hold a public hearing.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.