A listening tour by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will arrive in San Francisco tomorrow to hear from the “Left Coast” about how to create a new Clean Power Plan that passes muster with the Trump administration.
The Bay Area has perhaps the most environmentally conscious electorate in the country. This means that the majority of session participants will likely view this as an opportunity to voice their unhappiness with the administration’s approach to environmental policy.
And the administration is playing its role as antagonist to a ‘T’. Trump has dramatically reversed the federal government’s approach to Obama-era policies not only on the Clean Power Plan, but also on the Clean Air Act, the Waters of the United States, fracking emissions from oil and gas drilling, and is attempting to scale back the Endangered Species Act. And yes, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord.
The original Clean Power Plan was a clever, well-designed and unprecedented plan – originally written by a brain trust at the Natural Resources Defense Fund. Its aim was to lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dramatically in order to conform to promises made at the Paris Climate Accords in 2015. It allowed states to pick from a menu of strategies to reduce emissions.
However, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt now wants to downsize the plan dramatically. He and many others in the administration think that the interpretation of section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act was a dramatic overstretch of power by the Obama administration (The Supreme Court seems to have similar reservations – in early 2016 they stayed the regulation as it was being reviewed by a lower court). Now, Trump’s EPA is working hard to scale back the plan to a more traditional interpretation of Section 111(d) wherein rules were based on measures applied to a specific installation. This is also known as an “inside the fence line” interpretation that would largely concern coal-fired power plants as part of the new proposal.
Ultimately, this is a test of how critically one sees climate change action. For those on the political left, climate change has been “a cause célèbre” for many years. Some of its strongest voices call California home.
However the Trump administration disputes many of the particulars of climate science – including the consensus that greenhouse gas emissions create climate change and threaten the United States with sea-level rise.
Interestingly, there are very few coal plants in California. But the tour’s stops are strategic – there are natural political economies at play when selecting the sites of the hearings. The next stop is in Gillette, Wyoming, a very un-San Francisco town of 31,000 that just happens to sit atop the massive Powder River Basin coal fields, where roughly 40 percent of U.S. coal production takes place.
Do not expect a final decision to be issued anytime soon. There is a method to the madness of environmental regulation, and it involves public comment periods, draft proposals and A LOT of opportunity for federal courts to invoke stays, injunctions or vacate previous decisions before it is all done.
It’s quite possible the final judicial review of a new Clean Power Plan will outlast the Trump administration itself, if one can imagine life in America post-Trump.