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What does a Clean Power Plan rollback mean for emissions reduction?

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is a signature piece of President Obama’s environmental policy legislation finalized in 2015, intended to reduce U.S. carbon emissions levels from the electricity sector 32 percent by the year 2030. Challenged by President Donald Trump as a coal killer, he plans to repeal the act and revitalize the industry –generating considerable economic growth.

Can the Trump administration realistically stoke the fire of the coal industry back to life? Will reduced emissions and the associated costs to achieve them become a thing of the past?

Before holding your breath that EPA lower emission requirements are over, or that the power industry will turn into the wild, wild west, there are a few realities to consider:

  • Coal’s growth has been stagnant for years, and it isn’t economically competitive with the current supply of inexpensive natural gas and the falling cost of renewable energy.
  • With improvements in energy efficiency and renewables and the lower price of natural gas, CPP emission reductions are already happening automatically.
  • Despite having formal legislation requirements, many utilities had planned to comply with emissions reduction due to market force trends.
  • Many states are likely to reduce carbon even more than the levels required by the CPP.

Even with the Clean Power Plan active on the books, this legislation has been paused almost since its signing and wouldn’t be implemented for years. As convenient as it may be in political conversation, the reality is that coal’s decline in recent years isn’t simply a result of climate action legislation – it’s due to economics and cost. Competitive fuel sources are cheaper to produce and happen to be more environmentally friendly.

That said, individual states set their own emissions standards, and meeting compliance is not likely to change much even if the EPA replaces the CPP with a weaker, more industry-friendly standard to limit power plant emissions. Especially if you operate in a state that mandates low NOx or ultra-low NOx emissions, the best bet is to stay the course in maintaining them.


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