Environment

Kentucky will have three years to devise plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants under the Trump Administration’s finalized Affordable Clean Energy rule.

The effectiveness of the rule has been called into question by environmentalists and at least one former Obama administration official while Kentucky’s own Department of Environmental Protection says it will reduce carbon emissions and provide regulatory certainty.

The so-called ACE rule will require state officials to conduct a unit-by-unit review of coal-fired electric generating units. The analysis will look at ways to improve efficiency at coal plants and set a limit on the amount of emissions they can produce, said Sean Alteri, Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection deputy commissioner.

“I think this unity-by-unit analysis will require additional reductions [of greenhouse gases] at each unit,” Alteri said. “Emissions from those existing units will decrease in terms of CO2.”

After completing the plan, officials will submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

Kentucky still receives about 75 percent of its electricity from coal power and remains among the top 10 states in the country for coal-fired generating capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In its original analysis, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated the ACE rule would contribute to about 1,600 additional premature deaths by 2030 when compared to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was never fully-implemented.

These premature deaths would come from additional exposure to pollution that contributes to heart and lung disease.

The new impact analysis eschews these findings by changing the baseline for comparison. Rather than compare to the Clean Power Plan, the ACE rule compares itself to a case in which the Clean Power Plan never existed.

The new impact analysis finds the ACE rule would avoid somewhere between six and 44 premature deaths by 2030. The new rule is also projected to reduce carbon emissions by about 11 million tons by 2030, according to the analysis.

In total, the EPA says the new rule would reduce carbon emission by as much as 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 when combined with the coal industry’s declining trends.

However, Kentucky has already reduced carbon emissions by about 31 percent compared to 2005 levels, according to an EPA fact sheet.

“The level of ambition is an order of magnitude different in this rule, which I think helps people understand why so many people are saying that this is a rule that does very little,” said former U.S. EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Janet McCabe.

Hundreds of scientists from around the world agree the planet needs to reduce carbon emissions by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 in order to avoid warming above the 2.7 degrees, according to the 2018 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change.

McCabe agreed it’s probably not right to compare the new rule to the Clean Power Plan, but that’s only because that was written four years ago and much of the utility industry has already surpassed the goals set by the Clean Power Plan.

McCabe said the ACE rule is extremely narrowly defined and could provide states the flexibility to not require any carbon reductions from coal-fired power plants.

It may also create a perverse incentive for older, dirtier coal plants to run longer, she said.

“EPA should be looking at what is the reasonably anticipated future and what more could be done to protect public health into the future,” McCabe said.

It’s worth noting that Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s clean air chief and the architect of the ACE rule, resigned Wednesday amid an ethics scandal. Wehrum previously worked as an attorney and lobbyist for the coal industry before joining the Trump Administration.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating whether Wehrum violated an ethics pledge and reversed an enforcement action to help a former client.

 

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