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Wed. 10:34 a.m.: Trump EPA close to gutting Obama rule on coal power plants

In this July 27, 2018, file photo, the Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo. The Trump administration is close to completing one of the biggest of its dozens of rollbacks of environmental rules, replacing a landmark effort to wean the nation’s electrical grid off coal-fired power plants and their smokestack emissions that have been accused of changing the climate. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is close to completing one of its biggest rollbacks of environmental rules, replacing a landmark Obama-era effort that sought to wean the nation’s electrical grid off coal-fired power plants and their climate-damaging pollution.

The final Trump administration replacement rule, expected as soon as this week, instead would give individual states wide discretion to decide whether to require limited efficiency upgrades at individual coal-fired power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Administrator Andrew Wheeler would have a major policy announcement today but did not disclose the topic. Democrats, environmentalists, industry representatives and others, however, expect the final rule on coal plants.

Joseph Goffman, an EPA official under President Barack Obama, said he feared that the Trump administration was trying to set a legal precedent that the Clean Air Act gives the federal government “next to no authority to do anything” about climate-changing emissions from the country’s power grid. The Obama rule, adopted in 2015, sought to reshape the country’s power system by encouraging utilities to rely less on dirtier-burning coal-fired power plants and more on electricity from natural gas, solar, wind and other lower or no-carbon sources.

Burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heat is the main human source of heat-trapping carbon emissions.

Supporters of the revised rule say the Obama-era plan overstepped the EPA’s authority.

“This action is recalibrating EPA so it aligns with being the agency to protect public health and the environment in a way that respects the limits of the law,” said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior official at the EPA who helped write the replacement rule. She now runs a nonprofit, Energy45, that supports President Donald Trump’s energy initiatives.

“The Clean Power Plan was designed largely to put coal out of business,” Gunasekara said. Trump’s overhaul is meant to let states “figure out what is best for their mission in terms of meeting modern environmental standards” and providing affordable energy, she said.

Democrats and environmentalists say the Trump administration has repeatedly sought to use the power of government to protect the sagging U.S. coal industry from competition against cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas and solar and wind power while ignoring scientific warnings about climate change.

With coal miners at his side , Trump signed an order in March 2017 directing the EPA to scrap the Obama rule. It was one of the first acts of his presidency.

His pledge to roll back regulation for the coal industry helped cement support from owners and workers in the coal industry, and others. Despite his promise, market forces have frustrated Trump’s efforts . Competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable fuel has continued a yearslong trend driving U.S. coal plant closings to near-record levels last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The final rule is expected to closely follow the draft released in August.

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