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Former aide to Inhofe, a skeptic, to oversee first CO2 rules


By Niina Heikkinen and Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporters Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, is likely to become the first EPA administrator to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. But few expect him to sign off on a rule that closes coal plants and reduces carbon emissions.

One of Wheeler’s first regulatory tasks at EPA will be helping the agency complete its overhaul of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. The agency appears poised to replace, not repeal, the landmark rule, making it likely that President Trump and Wheeler, a former aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a climate skeptic, will oversee the nation’s first-ever climate rules on power plants.

Scott Pruitt’s resignation from the agency last week came as EPA completes its rollback of the Clean Power Plan, a goal Pruitt pursued since his days as Oklahoma’s attorney general. EPA has yet to release a final repeal of the original rule or formally propose a replacement.

That leaves it to Wheeler, a former Murray Energy Corp. lobbyist, to finish the job.

Some conservatives want Wheeler to scrap the Clean Power Plan altogether, setting up a fierce legal fight over EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide. They’re urging him to use the opportunity of a second Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice to challenge the agency’s endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, the legal underpinning for carbon regulation (Climatewire, July 6).

But few legal observers expect Wheeler to heed those pleas. Industry strongly favors replacing the Clean Power Plan with a weaker rule. And overturning the endangerment finding remains a tall task, even with a more conservative Supreme Court, they said.

“I think when Pruitt took office, he was not inclined to replace the Clean Power Plan. Virtually everyone in industry thought that was unwise — that EPA did have a legal obligation, but also they would be better off with a rule in place than no rule at all,” said Jeff Holmstead, an industry attorney at Bracewell LLP who served as EPA’s top air quality official during the George W. Bush administration. “I think Pruitt was persuaded of that. The White House was persuaded of that. And I think Andy feels the same way.”

The replacement will likely contain several differences from the Obama-era edition. Where EPA had proposed several pathways for reducing carbon emissions under President Obama, including energy efficiency and boosting renewables, the Trump plan is likely to focus solely on improving power plant efficiency.

And where emissions reductions were to be spread across the entire power system under the initial Clean Power Plan, the replacement is likely to focus on reducing carbon from individual power plants.

“It’s consistent with Republican idea of what the Clean Air Act allows,” said David Bookbinder, chief counsel at the libertarian Niskanen Center, which has argued in favor of a carbon tax. “It gives the emitters the protection they want. There is a rule in place. They can say, ‘We are being regulated.’ It might be lenient, forgiving, whatever, but they are being regulated.”

He added: “It won’t do much to reduce emissions, and it will protect industry, so it will be a perfect Trump administration plan.”