Trump’s ACE Rule Goes Bust

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Power plants won’t get a free pass from the Trump administration’s industry-friendly Affordable Clean Energy rule. A federal appeals court struck down the EPA’s proposed plan, which would have dramatically reduced regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. In the ruling, the court called the plan a “fundamental misconstruction” of national environmental law created by a “tortured series of misreadings.”

In striking down the plan, the court affirmed that the Clean Air Act allows the EPA to create regulations for the entire power sector — not just at the pollution-emitting plants, as the rule proposed. On the last day of the Trump administration, the ruling caps off four years of attempted environmental rollbacks from the agency meant to protect it. 

Why this Matters: The decision leaves the Biden administration with a clean slate to take on climate change, including regulating power plant emissions. By voiding the Trump EPA’s rule, the incoming administration can get right to work instead of spending time and energy on a legal battle to undo damage. The power sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, so acting on climate change means changing how the country generates energy.

Shifting away from polluting energy sources is also good for public health: according to an EPA analysis, if the Trump rule went into effect, it would have caused as many as 1,400 additional deaths a year by the end of the decade. 

The real win here is that the Trump administration failed to tie the Biden team’s hands,” Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University told the New York Times. “They wanted to lock in a narrow legal interpretation and make it impossible for a new administration to set ambitious standards for power plants. That was their whole strategy. And it went down to spectacular defeat.”

What Happened to the Clean Power Plan: The Trump administration had to create their new, industry-friendly rule in the first place because they repealed former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. That plan never went into effect: it was held up in courts after Republican state attorneys general and industry representatives sued, and the Supreme Court wouldn’t allow it to go into effect until those rulings were handed down. The plan emerged after the Paris agreement and was part of the US plan to meet emission targets set back in 2015. 


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