EPA air chief William Wehrum, a former coal industry lawyer, did acknowledge the plan's "collateral effects" on health Tuesday but said the EPA has "abundant legal authority to deal with those other pollutants directly".
During the conference, Wehrum also suggested that the new rule would keep the USA on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the EPA's own documents also state that carbon dioxide emissions are expected to increase.
The transforming energy market - cheap, abundant natural gas is displacing more carbon-heavy coal - is helping keep a lid on emissions, but the new Trump administration plan does not provide any meaningful cuts and could even make the situation worse by propping up old coal plants.
Yet documents released on Tuesday showed the EPA estimated carbon dioxide emissions would be higher than under the Obama policy, while pollution-related premature deaths, hospital admissions, asthma cases and school absence days could be higher by 2030.
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Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont and a member of the Environment and Public Works committee, tweeted after the announcement, "Trump is actively destroying the planet in order to enrich his billionaire friends in the fossil fuel industry". In his inaugural State of the Union address, the president declared an end to the "war on clean coal".
What has the Trump administration done?
The Sierra Club's senior campaign representative in Pennsylvania, Patrick Grenter, released a statement saying, "The proposed rollback of life-saving clean air and climate safeguards is unacceptable and exposes Wheeler's EPA as a puppet of the very coal executives who used to sign his paychecks and want to pollute with impunity". "The replacement rule respects the infrastructure and economic realities that are unique to each state, allowing for state-driven solutions, as intended by the Clean Air Act, rather than top down mandates". Such changes "will barely make a dent in cutting heat-trapping emissions from the electricity sector, and could even, under some circumstances, lead to increased emissions depending on how much the plants are run", Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement.
For producers, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a trade group representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives, said unraveling federal oversight would lead to a bottom-up improvement for the nation's grid. The EPA's role, Wehrum said, was simply to provide "guidance" and "flexibility" to the states. A survey from DNV GL, a Norwegian company providing risk management advice, of 813 senior oil and gas professionals found 64 percent of the sector leaders expected to either increase or sustain spending on natural gas projects this year.
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"To be abundantly clear, this is a regulation of greenhouse gases", he says of the new rule.
Industry officials praised the move.
Overall, emissions have increased 2 percent since 1990, though the number fell slightly from 2015 numbers. But other states could have faced earlier retirements for coal-fired power plants under the Obama-era plan. In a New York Times video op-ed, former coal miner Nick Mullins says the health costs should bury Trump's attempts to salvage a dying coal industry.
Klee said he hopes CT eventually takes legal action as a state or as part of a group, after the various comment periods for this proposed rule change are exhausted. The move dovetails with a separate administration proposal to relax Obama-era greenhouse gas emission limits on vehicles and coming efforts to ease restrictions on the amount of methane that can escape from oil wells.
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