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Green groups launch legal challenge to US EPA's CO2 rule for coal plants

As expected, a broad coalition of environmental groups joined the legal fray Aug. 14 over the Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy, or ACE, rule.

Finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on June 19, the narrowly drawn regulation replaced the sweeping Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which never went into effect because it was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the Clean Power Plan would have set the first-ever federal emission limits for existing coal-fired power plants, the ACE rule instead focuses solely on efficiency upgrades known as heat-rate improvements at those units.

Supporters of the regulation have framed it as a legal alternative that stakes out the EPA's authority to regulate planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. But challengers are preparing to argue that the ACE rule is illegal because, among other things, it would lead to a negligible amount of CO2 reductions compared to a business-as-usual approach.

"The Clean Air Act requires a plan that reduces dangerous emissions from dirty power plants and safeguards the public from carbon pollution," Joanne Spalding, the Sierra Club's chief climate counsel, said Aug. 14 in a statement. The ACE rule "does the opposite of protecting the public: it sets no mandatory limits on dangerous carbon pollution and will increase emissions at many dirty plants around the country, threatening the health and lives of our families and communities."

Joining the Sierra Club in its legal challenge were the Appalachian Mountain Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Air Council, Clean Wisconsin, Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club. The suit was filed a day after 22 states and seven local governments launched their own legal challenge to the ACE rule.

The American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association also have filed for judicial review of the regulation, with a coalition of coal-heavy American Electric Power Co. Inc. subsidiaries and coal producers Murray Energy Corp. and Westmoreland Coal Co. moving to intervene in support of the EPA in that case.

The various lawsuits are expected to be combined into a single legal challenge before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The last day to file for judicial review of the regulation is Sept. 6.