The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule is no more after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency in its battle with the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association. The ACE was adopted in 2019 by the Trump administration as a replacement for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP).
The ACE rule was one of the numerous efforts of to undo Obama-era environmental restrictions and further deregulate the energy industry, especially coal. The CPP, which went into effect in 2015, set national carbon emission limits for power plants and emphasized the use of lower-emitting fuels, including natural gas. It also gave the opportunity for states to adopt their own power plant-related emission limits. Though it was not mandatory for states to devise their own plans, if they were to abstain from doing so, their power plants would then be subject to federal oversight by the EPA, thus incentivizing the states to join the initiative.
ACE worked to undo this regulation, reducing the amount of federal regulation for the energy generation industry, setting guidelines for states to develop their own emission-reducing regulations, while also promoting modernizing and retrofitting of existing plants. The rule was based in the federal Clean Air Act, which ultimately became its downfall.
The appeals court was asked to determine the legality of ACE’s adoption by the EPA.
According to an unsigned opinion of the court, “the question in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Agency acted lawfully in adopting the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule, as a means of regulating power plant emissions of greenhouse gases.” The opinion explicitly answers that question, “It did not” and states that a “fundamental misconstruction” of the Clean Air Act was used in the initial justification of the rollback and that it did not provide adequate health and environmental protections.
Now, with ACE scrapped, and the transition of power to the incoming Biden administration, it is likely that the emissions rules on power plants will change yet again and provide further emissions protections.