President Donald Trump is expected to use a rally in West Virginia Tuesday to roll out a replacement for a major climate regulation that sought to limit carbon pollution.
Trump will be in Charleston campaigning for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. He is also expected to announce his administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan.
That Obama-era regulation aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants 32 percent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels in an effort to stem the effects of climate change. The rule took a broad approach and encouraged states to shift electricity generation away from coal toward cleaner natural gas and renewable energy.
The approach sparked legal challenges notably by Morrisey who led a coalition of states in the fight against the rule, effectively getting the U.S. Supreme Court to halt its implementation.
Initial reports indicate the administration’s new proposal is much weaker. Documents reviewed by The New York Times and other news outlets show the Trump administration plans to allow states to decide if and how to curb carbon emissions from power plants.
It is also more narrow. The replacement plan encourages coal plants to boost efficiency by adding automation or replacing worn parts to release fewer carbon dioxide emissions from every ton of coal burned.
James Van Nostrand, a law professor and director of West Virginia University's Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said if it made economic sense for utilities to invest in upgrades to boost power plant efficiency, they would have already done it.
"Spending more money to make them more efficient just makes the price higher that you’ve got to receive in order to make these plants work," he said.
Environmental advocates argue the new plan may encourage coal plant operators to run them more often and delay their closure, which would release more emissions into the atmosphere.
It remains unclear what impact the regulation overhaul may have on the state’s coal industry.
Van Nostrand said the cheap natural gas and the falling price of renewable energy like wind and solar will continue to drive the decisions utility companies make.
"It's going to be a great disappointment to a lot of folks in West Virginia that dismantling the EPA and Clean Power Plan is not going to have that much impact," he said.
A report released last week by West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, showed the recent uptick in coal production will be short-lived. It forecasts production will level out by 2020 and decline precipitously during the next two decades. The short-term decline is expected to be driven largely by a drop in international exports, although continued declining demand for coal-fired electricity is a lesser factor.