Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump’s administration announced its plan to weaken regulation of US coal plants, marking the most significant rollback yet in the environmental legacy of former president Barack Obama.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule allows states the flexibility to set their own standards for performance at existing coal-fired power plants, rather than follow a single federal standard.

The EPA says it is designed to replace Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by shifting electricity away from coal in favour of natural gas, wind and solar. Environmental advocates blasted the new rule, saying it will boost emissions from power plants, which emit about 28% of US greenhouse gases, and worsen global warming.

"The plan calls for only modest efficiency improvements at individual power plants, which 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," said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "This proposal would also result in more pollution from nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, mercury and other harmful pollutants."

EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the plan late on Monday, and was expected to give more details in a call with reporters on Tuesday.

The rule will be subject to a 60-day comment period before it can be finalised.

Trump, meanwhile, plans to travel to West Virginia coal country to tout the plan as delivering on a campaign promise to save the coal industry.

"The ACE Rule, if finalised, will significantly decrease bureaucratic red tape and compliance costs, keeping American energy affordable and competitive on the world stage," the White House said in a statement, adding that the savings would amount to $6.4bn.