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Trump Administration Finalizes Replacement To Obama's Clean Power

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration has long talked about ditching President Obama's Clean Power Plan. Now they've come up with a very different energy plan to replace it, one that props up America's coal industry. Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler signed the measure yesterday in front of an audience of coal miners and legislators.

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ANDREW WHEELER: We can't deny the fact that fossil fuels will continue to be a key part of the energy mix both at home and abroad. Coal use is rising worldwide.

MARTIN: The new measure sets no emissions targets. Instead, it's designed to let market forces guide the U.S. towards cleaner energy. Scientists say the world must rapidly cut back on emissions to diffuse the existential threat from climate change. Environmental groups in the state of New York have promised to challenge the administration in court over this.

I'm joined now by Joseph Goffman. He worked at the EPA in the Obama administration and helped craft the Clean Power Plan. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOSEPH GOFFMAN: Thank you for having me, and thank you and your colleagues for reporting this story.

MARTIN: Is the director of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, right? Do fossil fuels still occupy a necessary place in America's energy landscape?

GOFFMAN: They occupy a place within a large, diverse and flexible electric grid. They can be - or should be - and to some - to a large extent, are being paired with much cleaner energy sources.

MARTIN: So what is your response to this decision? You had to have seen this coming.

GOFFMAN: Yes. I think - we did see it coming. I think there are multiple responses. First, this is pretty devastating in terms of its impact on climate change policy because what the EPA did yesterday was really two things. First, it removed from the books the Clean Power Plan, which had been one of the most, if not the most, serious comprehensive national policy to deal with greenhouse gas emissions that lead to dangerous climate change, and replaced that policy - it replaced what was really intended to be a long-term foundation with a policy that is designed to do nothing and designed almost to prove the point to future policymakers that they can do nothing.

MARTIN: The administration says that this is about the market taking the lead. But the market has already moved away from coal and towards alternative energy solutions to a pretty significant degree, in which case, is this really - is this move really going to make much difference in practice?

GOFFMAN: Well, it's, again, a two-part answer. Ironically, despite the rhetoric, or contrary to the rhetoric, this rule would actually interfere with market forces because it would compel states and utilities to go back and revisit decisions they've - already had made about whether or not to put additional money into coal-fired power plants as opposed to continuing to invest in clean energy. The market is delivering a lot of good news here, but the market is not policy. What the Clean Power Plan did and what the EPA should be doing now is looking at the innovation and the progress that, yes, are already leading to lower emissions, and building upon that progress.

MARTIN: Just...

GOFFMAN: Go ahead.

MARTIN: Well, just briefly, seconds remaining, do you think this is something that will be addressed at the state level, states who are being more ambitious about implementing their own versions of the Clean Power Plan?

GOFFMAN: Some states are doing it. But what you want, if you want to deal with climate change, is a uniform national policy that sets a level playing field, gives all states targets and lets them figure out how to reach those targets.

MARTIN: OK. We'll have to leave it there. Joseph Goffman, executive director of the environmental and energy law program at Harvard, thank you.

GOFFMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.