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Trump's plans to eliminate carbon rule receives mixed support in Missouri

Ameren Missouri's largest coal-fired power plant in Labadie, Missouri.
File photo | Veronique LaCapra I St. Louis Public Radio
Ameren Missouri's coal-fired power plant at Labadie.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that would relieve coal-dependent states such as Missouri from having to comply with strict carbon emissions limits. The plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan was announced earlier this week by Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt. 

About 77 percent of electricity generated in Missouri comes from coal. Under the Clean Power Plan, Missouri would have to cut its carbon pollution by nearly a third by 2030, based on 2012 levels. Coal-fired power plants would be required to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and over the long term, and utility companies that operate them would have to transition away from coal to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Missouri is one of 28 states challenging the rule in court.

But local environmentalists say there are consequences to removing the Clean Power Plan.

"Trump is standing up for the big fossil fuel industries, but Missourians will pay a cost in terms of worse air, more premature deaths, fewer jobs and higher utility bills," said John Hickey, director of the Sierra Club's Missouri chapter.

A 2014 study by the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that the policy would prevent 1,200 premature deaths in Missouri between 2020 and 2030. 

Ameren operates four coal-fired power plants in Missouri, though the company plans to phase out its Meramec plant in five years. The company has voiced opposition to the Clean Power Plan and argued that the policy could hurt business.

Ajay Arora, vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning at Ameren, said that the company is working to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals similar to the standards set in the Clean Power Plan and is investing in renewable energy, but it does not agree with the Environmental Protection Agency's approach. 

"For example, the EPA suggests that it's possible to transition away from one fuel source to another across the grid," Arora said. "That might require a change in operations that's not really supported by the transmission grid and may cause reliability issues." 

An executive order would not immediately remove the Clean Power Plan. Maxine Lipeles, director of Washington University's Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic, said that since it's an EPA rule, the agency would have to issue a revised legislation.

"So that takes some time," Lipeles said. "The EPA has a legal duty to issue the kind of regulation it did and so if the EPA decides to fulfill that legal duty in a different way, it has to explain why it was wrong the first time and to explain why the other way is better."

She added, however, that in Missouri, wind energy has become less expensive than coal, and the state's solar energy industry has expanded significantly in recently years.

"All of those things are happening in Missouri, with or without the Clean Power Plan," Lipeles said. "I think the Clean Power Plan would move things along more quickly. But neither President Trump nor the EPA administrator controls that market and that market is moving towards renewable energy."

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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