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Courtroom strikes down main Trump rollback of restrictions on energy vegetation, paving approach for Biden emission laws

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In a last-minute slap in the face against President Donald Trump, a federal appeals court put down one of his administration’s most serious climate setbacks on Tuesday. Officials acted illegally when they enacted a new regulation that makes it easier for the federal government to regulate air pollution from power plants.

The Trump administrative rule was based on a “misreading of the Clean Air Act,” the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled, adding that the Environmental Protection Agency “has fundamentally misunderstood the law.” The decision should give the new von Biden government more freedom in regulating emissions from power plants, one of the main sources of climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions.

The EPA spokeswoman Molly Block described the agency’s handling of the rule change as “well supported”. The court ruling “risks more uncertainty at a time when the nation needs regulatory stability,” she said.

Environmental groups celebrated the verdict of a three-member panel of the court of appeal.

“Today’s decision is the perfect gift for Inauguration Day in America,” said Ben Levitan, attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups that challenged the Trump rule in court.

The verdict “confirms that the Trump administration’s dubious attempt to lift reasonable limits on climate pollution from power plants was illegal,” Levitan said. “Now we can move on to the very important work of protecting Americans from climate change and creating new clean energy jobs.”

A coalition of environmental groups, some state governments and others had challenged the Trump administration’s so-called ACE (Affordable Clean Energy) rule for the energy sector. The rule, which was finally passed in 2019, replaced the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature program to combat climate change.

The court ruling came on the last full day in the Trump administration’s office. Under Trump, the EPA withdrew dozens of public health and environmental protections as the government tried to cut regulation altogether, making much of it unnecessary and a burden on businesses.

Trump, who campaigned for a pledge to restart struggling coal mining in 2016, overturned the Obama administration’s plan to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants that power the country’s electricity grid. The Clean Power Plan was one of President Barack Obama’s earlier efforts to slow climate change.

The Trump administration replaced the Affordable Clean Energy Plan, which left most of the decisions about regulating power plant emissions to the states. Opponents said the rule did not place significant limits on carbon pollution and increased pollution at nearly 20% of the country’s coal-fired power plants.

Market forces have continued the year-long decline of US coal mining, despite these and other moves by Trump on behalf of the industry.

Andrea McGimsey, senior director for Environment America’s “Solutions to Global Warming” campaign, said Trump’s “Dirty Power Plan” was “clearly a disastrous and ambiguous regulation from the start.” We hope that after the Trump administration leaves, this decision reflects a much brighter future for renewables like solar and wind.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., Chair of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, described the ruling as a timely rejection of Trump’s efforts to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

“It looks like we’re going to usher in a new era of clean energy advancement a day early,” said Castor. “It is almost poetic to see our courts overturn this short-sighted and harmful policy on Trump’s last full day in office.”

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