Environment

The Trump administration has unveiled a replacement to Obama-era greenhouse gas regulations. The new plan, called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule would give states more flexibility over emission standards at coal-fired power plants and save utilities hundreds of millions of dollars annually. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s projections estimate it would also increase the country’s carbon emissions and fuel more premature deaths.

Under the Trump Administration’s proposal, coal-fired power plants would reduce carbon emissions through on-site efficiency upgrades. They would also have more latitude to make improvements without having to install the latest pollution control technologies.

Also, states would have broad discretion in setting carbon emissions standards.

The EPA projects the proposal would save utilities $700 million annually in avoided costs by 2025 compared to the Clean Power Plan, according to the EPA’s impact analysis.

The 2015 Clean Power Plan was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and never went into effect.

On the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell railed against the Clean Power Plan, lambasting it as ideologically driven, unfair, unworkable and “likely illegal.”

“Today’s proposed rule is the first step in the process. I look forward to engaging in this process as it moves forward toward a better outcome for Kentucky and for the entire country,” McConnell said.

Increases In Pollution

The rule would also increase emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NOX), and mercury — all of which adversely affect human health — by as much as six percent for some emissions by 2030, according to the EPA’s impact analysis.

The analysis did not include estimates on how those increased emissions would impact climate change, including ocean acidification and environmental tipping points.

The increased exposure to pollution from ozone and fine particulate matter would increase hospital visits for cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses and contribute to as many as 1,600 additional premature deaths, the analysis shows.

David Doniger with the Natural Resources Defense Council said the proposal props up old and outdated coal-fired power plants at the cost of Americans’ health and future generations.

“It will cause thousands more deaths and illnesses from coal plant pollution and together with the rollback of clean car standards it signals that the Trump Administration is just fine with runaway climate change,” Doniger said.

Market Forces In Kentucky

As of last year, 79 percent of Kentucky’s electricity came from coal power — the fourth largest share of any state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But many of the state’s coal fired plants are older, and less efficient than modern plants.

As a result, market forces are pushing older coal-fired power plants into retirement.

The city of Owensboro Kentucky plans to close a 54-year-old coal power plant in 2020.

That’s in part because the plant has trouble competing with natural gas prices when selling excess capacity on the open market, said Owensboro Municipal Utility Spokeswoman Sonya Dixon. Maintenance is also driving up costs.

Thirty miles to the west, the city of Henderson also owns a coal-fired power plant and is considering closing its station, said Chris Heimgartner, the utility manager for Henderson Municipal Power and Light.

Since Donald Trump was elected, more than three dozen coal-power plants across the country have retired, said Joanne Spalding, deputy director of the Environmental Law Program for the Sierra Club.

“The Trump Administration’s attempt to roll back the Clean Power Plan today is a part of a broader last ditch effort to bail out the coal industry and undercut cleaner, cheaper competitors like wind and solar that are replacing coal and helping reduce carbon pollution,” Spalding said.

The decline of coal has disproportionately affected residents of Eastern Kentucky who have fewer job prospects as coal mines close, but are still stuck paying for electricity from older, coal-fired power plants.

But McConnell says families like those in Eastern Kentucky would have fared worse under Clean Power Plan.

“Lower-income Americans are hit the hardest when energy costs take off and this plan was projected to yield double-digit percentage increases in electricity costs in 40 states of course including Kentucky,” he said.

But according to a recent story from nonprofit news outlet InsideClimate News, Kentucky Power customers have already seen their bills double in the past decade and are now paying among the highest bills in the country for an investor-owned utility.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.