Amid scientists' increasingly urgent warnings, the Trump administration has ordered a sweeping about-face on Obama-era efforts to fight climate change, easing restrictions on coal-fired power plants in a move it predicted would revitalise America's sagging coal industry.
As miners in hard hats and coal-country lawmakers applauded, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday signed a measure that scraps one of President Barack Obama's key initiatives to rein in fossil fuel emissions. The replacement rule gives states more leeway in deciding whether to require plants to make limited efficiency upgrades.
Wheeler said he expects more coal plants to open as a result. But one state, New York, immediately said it would go to court to challenge the action, and more lawsuits are likely.
The EPA move follows pledges by President Donald Trump to rescue the US coal industry, which saw near-record numbers of plant closings last year in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables. It's the latest and one of the biggest of dozens of environmental regulatory rollbacks by his administration.
It came despite scientists' cautions that the world must cut fossil fuel emissions to stave off the worst of global warming and the EPA's own analysis that the new rule would result in the deaths of an extra 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030, owing to additional air pollution from the power grid.
"Americans want reliable energy that they can afford," Wheeler declared at the signing ceremony, with White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney alongside to underscore Trump's approval.
There's no denying "fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the mix," Wheeler said.
Lawmakers and industry representatives from coal states blamed federal regulation, not the market, for the decadeslong trend of declining US coal use and said Wednesday's act would stave off more coal plant closings.
The Trump administration also is proposing to roll back an Obama-era rule requiring tougher mileage standards for cars and light trucks. Environmental groups promise court challenges there, too.
An Associated Press analysis of federal air data showed US progress on cleaning the air may be stagnating after decades of improvement. Despite Trump's repeated false claims that America's air is the cleanest it's ever been, there were 15 per cent more days with unhealthful air both last year and the year before than on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when America had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.
Australian Associated Press