ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Trump administration says it will move formally to repeal President Obama's key climate change policy tomorrow. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made the announcement today while speaking to coal miners in Kentucky. The Clean Power Plan was meant to fulfill U.S. promises under the Paris climate accord, an international treaty. NPR's energy and environment editor Jennifer Ludden joins us now to sort through what this repeal could mean. And first, Jennifer - not a surprise here.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Not at all, no. This was a big campaign promise for President Trump. He's actually been talking about it past tense for a while now. He told a crowd in Alabama recently that Clean Power Plan was boom, gone. It's not actually so simple. EPA Administrator Pruitt says he's going to sign a formal proposal tomorrow to withdraw from the plan, and that's going to kick off a long regulatory process.
SIEGEL: Let's take a step back for a moment. What was the Clean Power Plan supposed to do? And why is it so controversial?
LUDDEN: So it aimed to cut carbon emissions from power sources by about a third by 2030. And this was to address global warming. Now, each state had its own target. And critics said these targets were so controversial you couldn't really meet them unless you shut down coal plants and shifted to natural gas and wind and solar. Here's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt talking about this today when he spoke to coal miners in Hazard, Ky.
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SCOTT PRUITT: The past administration was unapologetic. They were using every bit of power to use the EPA to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity in this country. And that's wrong.
LUDDEN: Now, more than two dozen states actually sued over that plan, including Pruitt when he was Oklahoma's attorney general. They said the EPA had overstepped its bounds. Last year, the Supreme Court granted a stay in that case, and so the Clean Power Plan has never actually taken effect.
SIEGEL: So the Trump administration is set to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. Does it have something to replace it with?
LUDDEN: That's a really good question. In a draft document that NPR and other media outlets have seen, the EPA says it is going to issue this notice of rulemaking to consider whether to replace it and with what. Now, by law, the EPA does have to regulate carbon emissions in some manner. And also, many in the power industry have been telling the White House they'd really like a replacement, that they kind of need this regulatory certainty to run their businesses.
SIEGEL: But if the power policy has never actually taken effect, what would the impact be of repealing it in reality?
LUDDEN: You know, it's not as much as you'd think watching the president talk about this. I mean, he likes to say the war on coal is over. But really the biggest threat to coal plants has not been government regulation. In recent years, it has been this rise of cheap natural gas. And since this Clean Power Plan was passed, solar and wind have also gotten really cheap in some places.
Plus - and this is something you hear a lot of places. I've heard it from utilities myself. Players across the industry realize even though this administration may not want to seriously tackle carbon emissions, the next one in four or eight years probably will. Here's David Doniger with the National - Natural Resources Defense Council.
DAVID DONIGER: Power company executives know that the climate change problem isn't going away and that the Clean Air Act isn't going away. They'll both be there much longer than Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump. And so they're making their investment decisions on the long term.
LUDDEN: So getting rid of this policy might save some coal jobs. But right now it makes no business sense to build a new coal-fired power plant in this country, and that is not going to change just because the Clean Power Plan goes away.
SIEGEL: NPR's Jennifer Ludden, thank you.
LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.