Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule Faces Legal Challenge

This year has seen yet greater increases in permafrost thawing in Russia, and more frequent incidents of extreme heat and weather. Blind to such events and their cause, the Trump administration released the ‘Affordable Clean Energy Rule’ (ACE). The ACE rule is Trump’s response to climate change, implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency. The rule replaced the Obama Clean Power Plan (CPP) partway through June. The CPP had aimed to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) created from electrical power generation by 32 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. By comparison, the aim of the new ACE rule is to reduce GHG by between 0.7 and 1.5 per cent within the same timeline. In response, a coalition of 22 states and 7 municipalities have filed a lawsuit this week against the EPA, alleging the agency is violating its critical mandate, the Clean Air Act.

In Vox, Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator under Obama, criticised ACE as, “The first rule in EPA’s history that acknowledges the existential threat of climate change but… does absolutely nothing to stop it.” Letitia James, Attorney General of New York and coalition leader, equated the ACE rule to a ‘do nothing’ plan.

An EPA spokesperson said in an email that: “in regards to ACE, EPA worked diligently to ensure we produced a solid rule, that we believe will be upheld in the courts, unlike the previous Administration’s Clean Power Plan.” Prior to the litigation, Andrew Wheeler, current EPA administrator openly supported the rule, describing it as a ‘better approach’ to climate change than the CPP.

ACE is being used by the administration to reduce restrictions for industries with high emissions output, such as manufacturing and energy production. While these industries receive a short-term boost, the long-term cost to the American public and industries will far outweigh any potential gains – not only will environmental costs increase, but so will health costs, as increased pollution affects vulnerable individuals, especially those with asthma. This suggests that the Trump administration is simply trying to ‘win votes’ rather than legislate for the needs of the public. The lawsuit is currently the only way for the ACE rule to be removed.

The ACE rule was implemented in June and comes at a time when US emissions have started to increase. While data for 2017 indicated that emissions dropped by about 0.5 per cent, data in 2018 found that emissions had increased by between 2.6 and 2.8 per cent. Five other Obama-era rules have also been rolled back, including the Clean Car Standards rule. Overall, this could lead to an annual increase of CO2 emissions by as much as 200 million metric tons. Not only does this influence the US but it perpetuates the idea that short-term economic growth outweighs the importance of long-term environmental sustainability and human welfare.

The US is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and in implementing the ACE rule, the Trump administration has sent a clear message to major polluters. A lawsuit has been filed by a Democrat coalition of states, municipalities and interest groups. It is yet unclear whether this will be successful in overturning the ACE rule.