Court Strikes Down Dirty Power Scheme

The Trump administration’s illegal replacement of the Clean Power Plan had put corporate polluters ahead of our environment and health.
ReFined Plastics plans to develop the decommissioned Titus coal-fired power station in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, into a plastic recycling facility.
Credit: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

The Trump administration’s illegal replacement of the Clean Power Plan had put corporate polluters ahead of our environment and health.

In a resounding win for climate and public health, a federal appeals court struck down the Trump administration’s replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan today, calling its do-nothing rule a clear violation of the Clean Air Act. The decision is in response to a lawsuit filed by NRDC and our partners in 2019.

“On its final day in office, the Trump administration suffered a devastating legal blow—affirming that the law stands on the side of the people, not corporate polluters,” says David Doniger, senior strategic director of NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program. “Now it’s up to Biden’s EPA to strengthen our federal protections against harmful pollution and usher in a clean energy future.”

Passed in 2015, the Clean Power Plan was the first law to set limits on the carbon pollution produced by power plants—the largest emitters of carbon in the country and a primary source of deadly airborne particulate matter.

Despite the years of broad public engagement that went into passing the Clean Power Plan, Trump’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency quickly moved to scrap it and replaced it with the so-called Affordable Clean Energy Rule in 2018, which loosened—and, in some cases, eliminated—the requirements for industry to curb pollution.

At issue was the new rule’s narrow interpretation of Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which requires the federal government to set the “best system of emission reduction” at existing power plants.

While the Clean Power Plan included broader and more-effective systems of emissions reduction, the Affordable Clean Energy plan let polluters off the hook by instead only requiring industry to make trivial improvements at individual power plants. Contrary to its name, this watered-down rule would have made energy dirtier and, in some cases, more expensive.

The Clean Power Plan promised to reduce the sector’s emissions by 32 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. Though this goal has now nearly been met, thanks to a rapidly decarbonizing power industry, efforts should now be made by the Biden administration to capitalize on this momentum by, among other actions, investing in frontline communities, strengthening the Clean Power Plan, stopping fossil fuel development, getting back on track with fuel efficiency standards, and protecting our ecosystems.

“We are fortunate that market trends are moving the power sector away from dirty coal plants and toward cleaner generation and energy services faster than the EPA anticipated in 2015,” Doniger said, “but that is no basis for complacency. We need to move even faster toward a clean electric power grid.”

NRDC modeling shows that doing so could slash power plant carbon pollution by 60 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, at a reasonable cost and yielding $100 billion in climate and health benefits.

“This timely, resounding rejection of the Trump EPA’s deeply flawed and illegal rollback of limits on carbon pollution from power plants clears the way for the Biden EPA to quickly set standards that will effectively slash CO2 emissions as America hastens the transition to cleaner and safer energy sources,” Doniger says.


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