The Environmental Protection Agency proposed another rollback Thursday aimed at easing controls on emissions from coal-fired power plants, this time for new ones, even as warnings mount from the agency's scientists and others about the growing toll of climate change.
The EPA's acting administrator signed a proposal that, if approved by the Trump administration after public review, would loosen an Obama-era rule that would have required cutting-edge carbon capture techniques for new coal plants. Andrew Wheeler said the curbs on coal emissions were "excessive burdens" on the industry.
Environmentalists and scientists say this plan and other proposed administration rollbacks on pollutants from fossil fuels run counter to desperately needed efforts to slow climate change.
Thursday's announcement comes two weeks after a report by the EPA and 12 other federal agencies warned that climate change caused by burning of coal, oil and gas already was worsening natural disasters in the United States, and would cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage each year by the end of the century.
Asked about easing the way for new coal plants in the context of the harm from coal pollution on humans and the environment, Wheeler said "having cheap electricity helps human health."
Speaking alongside Wheeler at a news conference, Michelle Bloodworth of the coal industry group America's Power said the latest rollback could throw a lifeline to domestic coal-fired power producers.
Competition from cleaner, cheaper natural gas and other rival forms of energy has driven down coal use in the United States, so that this year will see the second-greatest number of closings of coal-fired power plants on record.
"It does appear that this proposal would make it feasible for new coal plants" to be built, Bloodworth said.
The 2015 rule becomes the latest Obama-era effort against climate-changing fossil fuel emissions to be targeted by the Trump administration. Earlier proposals would dismantle a plan meant to shift the national electrical grid away from coal and toward cleaner-burning solar and wind power, and would relax pending tougher mileage standards for cars and light trucks.
Wheeler said emission controls that the Obama rule would demand of new coal plants went beyond what was currently technologically possible. He argued the result of the rollback would be cheaper energy.
"This administration cares about action and results, not talks and wishful thinking," he said.