Environment

California sues to stop Trump rollback of Obama-era restrictions on coal-burning power plants

California and a coalition of 21 other states on Tuesday sued to block the Trump administration's attempt to gut restrictions on coal-burning power plants, limits that were central to President Barack Obama's climate change policy.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said President Donald Trump's effort to dismantle 2015's Clean Power Plan undercuts efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allows the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its legal responsibility to crack down on air pollution.

"President Trump's attempt to gut our nation's Clean Power Plan is foolish. It's also unlawful," Becerra said. "His fossil fuel protection plan fails everyone who stands for cleaner air. And it fails our economy, which depends on clean energy now more than ever. We know what our energy future must look like, and we won't get there by following President Trump's misguided proposal. Because we're prepared to confront the climate crisis head-on, we're prepared to confront President Trump head on in court."

The federal lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington by the 22-state coalition, as well as major cities, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

The legal action is just the latest effort by California to block the Trump administration's dismantling of federal environmental protections adopted by Obama and other previous administrations.

In July, California circumvented the Trump administration's efforts to relax tailpipe pollution regulations by reaching a deal with four major automakers to gradually increase fuel efficiency standards.

California has filed more than two dozen challenges to Trump administration policies proposed by the EPA, U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies responsible for setting energy and fuel efficiency standards. The state has prevailed in at least 15 of those lawsuits, and Becerra said he expects to be victorious again challenging Trump's attempt to roll back restrictions on coal-burning power plants.

"We have confidence not just in the law but that the science and facts are with us on this case," Becerra said.

The Trump administration's proposed plan, called the Affordable Clean Energy rule, eliminates what had been an aggressive nationwide effort to reduce the energy sector's carbon footprint. The move is also designed to make good on Trump's campaign promise to revive the nation's coal industry.

After the rule was announced in June, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to join with other states in taking legal action to block the new policy.

"Climate change is a global threat that endangers our lives and livelihoods – polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink," Newsom said on Tuesday. "Now is a time for bold action, not for ripping up a decade-long effort that would reduce carbon pollution from one of the largest and most important sources of greenhouse gas emissions."

The 1970s-era Clean Air Act requires the federal government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and the Trump administration may have difficulty convincing the courts that its Affordable Clean Energy rule does so.

Older coal-burning plants that faced almost certain obsolescence under the Clean Power Plan would be allowed to stay open with modest modifications under the Trump administration plan.

Energy experts doubt that Trump's more lax approach will reverse the coal industry's decline. Coal has been steadily losing its foothold in the American energy marketplace to cheaper natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar.

Though the industry has blamed government regulations such as the Clean Power Plan for making it noncompetitive, domestic demand for coal has fallen even without the Obama-era rule ever taking effect.

(Los Angeles Times staff writer Anna M. Phillips contributed to this report.)

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