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What is the Future of the Clean Power Plan?

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Last week, President Donald Trump signed a new executive order requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan and a related rule aimed at limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new power plants.

The Clean Power Plan — which was originally ordered by the Obama administration and targets an overarching 32 percent emissions reduction in the U.S. electric power sector by 2030 — now faces major changes and an uncertain future.

What the Executive Order Means

President Trump’s order was widely viewed as a move to ease emissions regulations and specifically benefit the coal industry. 

The order also canceled President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which eliminates Obama-era efforts to improve climate adaptation, embed climate risks in national security apparatuses, reduce agency emissions, expand the importance of climate impacts in the National Environmental Policy Act, and freeze new coal leases on public land. It also begins a review of methane regulations by EPA and the Bureau of Land Management and a rule on hydraulic fracturing by BLM and instructs agencies not to use the social cost of carbon when weighing the costs and benefits of environmental regulation.

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Previously, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) had projected that the Clean Power Plan would likely drive significant increases in natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewables — especially wind and solar power. While power generation from natural gas and renewables are still widely expected to grow, this order can potentially impact long-term growth. 

What's Next

Based on the review, it is expected that the EPA will begin a formal rulemaking process to rescind the Clean Power Plan and potentially replace it with a weaker replacement.  There is no given time frame laid out for reviewing the Clean Power Plan, but the process could take up to a year or more given the current, widespread job vacancies at EPA. 

The executive order also changed how the EPA will approach litigation over the Clean Power Plan. Instead of defending the rule at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, they have since asked the Court for abeyance.  The District Court is yet to respond.

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Posted: April 07, 2017