President Donald Trump's administration said Monday it will repeal President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, turning back what Republicans have criticized as federal overreach.
Pruitt said he would sign a new rule to replace Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which set state-by-state goals to reduce power plant pollution. The rules aimed to cut carbon dioxide emissions across the nation by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The decision could significantly ease the burdens on power plants in coal-heavy states such as Kentucky, where Pruitt made the announcement.
It also could challenge Maryland leaders’ efforts to reduce the amount of air pollution that blows into the state from upwind. Last month, the state sued EPA for failing to apply stricter pollution controls to dozens of power plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The decision is not expected to change much for power plants within Maryland, though.
Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan already have agreed on a plan, adopted last year, to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
The Maryland Healthy Air Act, adopted in 2006, also sets emissions limits on coal plants that are tighter than federal standards. And Hogan recently joined in extending the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that auctions off power plant emission allowances across the Northeast.
Maryland’s air quality has improved in recent years, but remains below targets for some pollutants such as ozone-forming nitrogen oxides. State environmental officials say out-of-state pollution is responsible for creating as much as 70 percent of the state’s ozone, a form of oxygen that can cause breathing difficulty.
Representatives for Gov. Larry Hogan could not be reached for comment. State offices were closed Monday for Columbus Day.
State environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in an e-mail that the EPA’s decision “will not stop the progress we are making in our state and throughout the region with our stronger Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”
Grumbles said the state’s lawsuit demanding EPA action on interstate smog will proceed, adding that state officials “are confident of its merits regardless of the news today."
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced last week it and a coalition of environmental groups had filed a similar lawsuit against EPA, piggybacking on Maryland’s challenge.
Will Baker, the group’s president, said Monday that the EPA’s failure to crack down on interstate smog and its repeal of the Obama-era plan seemed consistent — and disappointing.
“It’s madness to try to curtail clean air regulations in this country right as they’re starting to work,” Baker said. “This EPA under Scott Pruitt does not seem interested in clean air.”
The EPA’s action to repeal the rule would fulfill campaign promises by Trump, who has vowed to roll back government regulation and bring coal and industrial jobs back to the U.S.
Speaking alongside Pruitt in his home state, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Obama-era plan’s repeal could stop the bleeding caused by over-regulation of coal but would not bring back lost jobs.
“A lot of damage has been done,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “This doesn’t immediately bring everything back, but we think it stops further decline of coal-fired plants in the United States and that means there will still be some market here.”
Government statistics show that coal mines currently employ about 52,000 workers nationally — a modest 4-percent uptick since Trump became president. Those numbers are dwarfed by the jobs created by building such clean power infrastructure as wind turbines and solar arrays.
Maryland had about 350 coal industry jobs in 2015, according to federal statistics. The Maryland Coal Association, created in the 1980s to advocate for the industry, closed in late 2015.
The withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan is the latest in a series of moves by Trump and Pruitt to dismantle Obama’s legacy on fighting climate change, including the delay or rolling back of rules limiting levels of toxic pollution in smokestack emissions and wastewater discharges from coal-burning power plants.
The president announced earlier this year that he will pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. Nearly 200 countries have committed to combat global warming by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
“This president has tremendous courage,” Pruitt said Monday. “He put America first and said to the rest of the world we are going to say no and exit the Paris Accord. That was the right thing to do.”
Environmental groups and public health advocates quickly derided the administration’s decision on coal plants as short sighted.
“Trump is not just ignoring the deadly cost of pollution, he’s ignoring the clean energy deployment that is rapidly creating jobs across the country,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.
Attorneys general in Massachusetts and New York pledged to sue the Trump administration over the action, while California Attorney General Xavier Becerra pledged to “do everything in my power to defend the Clean Power Plan.”
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh could not be reached for comment. His office has taken several actions against EPA already, concerning chemical accidents, pesticide regulation, vehicle emissions, offshore drilling and energy efficiency
The Associated Press contributed to this article.