Emissions Reductions Touted by EPA Are at Odds with Its Policies

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News • Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The rise of renewables and the replacement of coal with natural gas are fueling declines in CO2 emissions

Emissions Reductions Touted by EPA Are at Odds with Its Policies
Credit: Getty Images

EPA yesterday trumpeted the United States’ progress in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, tying the reduction to “President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda.”

The problem, according to experts, is that EPA is patting itself on the back for a decline that’s largely due to the rise of natural gas and renewable energy. And that rise is sharply at odds with Trump’s vows to save the struggling domestic coal industry.

“EPA is taking credit for emission reductions that are a direct result of the decline of coal in America,” said John Larsen, an analyst with the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm.


“The president has said he wants to bring back coal in America and put the miners back to work,” Larsen said. “But EPA is taking credit for the opposite.”

EPA yesterday released new data collected under its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program showing total reported U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.7 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Reported emissions from large power plants also fell 4.5 percent since 2016 and 19.7 percent since 2011.

“Thanks to President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda, the economy is booming, energy production is surging, and we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions from major industrial sources,” acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

“These achievements flow largely from technological breakthroughs in the private sector, not the heavy hand of government,” Wheeler added. “The Trump Administration has proven that federal regulations are not necessary to drive CO2 reductions. While many around the world are talking about reducing greenhouse gases, the U.S. continues to deliver, and today’s report is further evidence of our action-oriented approach.”

Larsen, however, said the emissions declines since 2011 have been tied to three main factors: an increase in renewable energy, a decrease in coal and a drop in electricity demand.

Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, whose membership includes 35 state air regulators, agreed.

“The continued reductions come from the brute force economics of gas beating the pants off of coal in the power marketplace,” Keogh said.

For its part, the powerful American Petroleum Institute was swift to tout the role of natural gas in lowering emissions.

Ben Inskeep, an analyst who tracks the power sector at EQ Research, also pointed to the continued retirements of coal-fired power plants, despite Trump administration policies designed to prop up fossil fuels.

“I think the major trend in the electricity sector with respect to greenhouse gas emissions is the retirement of coal plants,” Inskeep said. “As that has been replaced with natural gas or renewables, or a mix of the two, we’re seeing that trend continue, even with various Trump administration policies designed to benefit coal power.”

Last April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry floated a plan to boost struggling coal and nuclear plants. But the plan is faltering at the White House after failing to attract support, a Trump administration official said earlier this week (Greenwire, Oct. 16).

Touting emissions reductions is nothing new for Wheeler. His recent speeches have focused on what he calls “pollution prevention,” or the idea that the United States has dramatically cleaned up its air since the passage of the Clean Air Act and subsequent amendments (Climatewire, Oct. 5).

But EPA has several rollbacks in the works aimed at weakening Obama-era carbon rules. The agency this summer proposed dialing back clean car standards and replacing the Clean Power Plan—President Obama’s signature initiative for curbing emissions from the power sector—with a weaker version.

EPA’s own analysis suggests that the two proposals for cars and power plants would increase carbon emissions by as much as 141 million metric tons in 2030—the equivalent of operating about 35 coal-fired power plants for a year.

“On the one hand, they’re bragging about how great it is that GHG emissions are going down,” said David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And on the other hand, they’re taking steps to make them go up.”