The Appalachian Mountain Club is one of ten environmental groups that together filed a lawsuit in August against the Trump administration over the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE), saying the rule would be detrimental to the environment and to public health.
The rule, rolled out in June, replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and helps loosen federal greenhouse gas regulations and incentivizes coal as an energy source, explains Georgia Murray, an AMC staff scientist. The ACE rule states that the “best system of emission reduction” for carbon dioxide from existing coal-fired power plants is allowing those plants to regulate efficiency.
“It’s really a weak interpretation (of the law), and I would say, illegal,” Murray says. “What this means is that coal plants, which emit some of the most polluting types of fossil fuels into the air, will upgrade their efficiency and can run longer, which will actually increase those emissions.”
The Clean Power Plan, introduced in 2015, was designed to prioritize clean, renewable, affordable energy sources, with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent by 2030. Under the new ACE rule, achieving this goal will be more difficult, as the rule prolongs the United States’ dependence on coal.
“This action is really pulling the rug out from under the progress of the Obama administration and the direction we were headed in,” Murray says. “It’s moving us backwards.”
AMC and its co-signers filed their petition against ACE at the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit. Organizations joining AMC include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Council, Clean Wisconsin, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Sierra Club. Jay Duffy, an attorney with the Clean Air Task Force representing AMC, expects that the appeal will take at least a year, if not longer, to go through the courts.
“In this action, EPA is really seeking to limit a future administration, serious about climate action, from being able to utilize the most effective means of reducing pollution from coal plants, by claiming that the Clean Air Act only allows systems of emission reduction that can be bolted onto a plant,” Duffy says.
Multiple state attorneys general, including Letitia James (NY), Maura Healey (MA), Aaron Frey (ME), William Tong (CT), and Josh Shapiro (PA), as well as public health groups, have filed their own lawsuits against the ACE rule, as well.
Murray says it’s important for AMC to get involved because the rule would have detrimental, long-term effects across the region, including impacts on outdoor recreation.
“This is about climbing to the top of a mountain and seeing clear views. With more pollution, we won’t have that,” she says. “There are so many aspects of protecting our environment that are being rolled back and undermining what our future will look like. We were moving in a direction of a healthier environment, and we no longer have that. It’s sad.”
Duffy adds: “It’s the people who appreciate nature that will suffer. The purpose of the Clean Air Act is to protect public health and the environment, but here the EPA has decided to do the opposite and assist corporations to make more money by continuing to damage the environment. It’s important, when the government has ignored the rights of its citizens to enjoy the natural world, that we step up.”