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Shutdown ties up Trump's fossil fuel agenda

Elvina Nawaguna, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The partial government shutdown has snagged progress on President Donald Trump's ambitious agenda to boost fossil fuel use and extraction, including the administration's repeal and replacement of the Clean Power Plan, which has a March deadline.

Over the last two years, the Trump administration set in motion an aggressive deregulatory agenda, easing emissions regulations and making it easier for energy companies to extract fossil fuels from public lands. Some of the regulatory rollbacks that have been in the works are scheduled to be finalized in the next two months but are now facing delays -- such as cessation of public hearings -- because of the shutdown, now in its third week.

The administration moved quickly to replace former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which put nationwide limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. According to the White House's unified agenda, the EPA's deadline to finalize the repeal is in March.

The agency had also planned by March to complete a rule repealing Obama administration carbon emission limits for new power plants, as well easing tailpipe emission standards for cars and light trucks of 2021-2026 models after declaring that the previous administration's regulations were unreasonable and based on outdated data.

"I don't think agencies are necessarily going to be able to pick up where they left off," said Jeff Holmstead, a partner at the law firm Bracewell LLP. "It's now gone on long enough that there are certainly starting to be concerns by industry."

Holmstead served as EPA air administrator in the George W. Bush administration.

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Unraveling those regulations has been a key part of Trump's attempts to fulfill a campaign promise and to purse his "energy dominance" agenda. Conservatives view the rules mostly written under the Obama administration as overreaching and stifling to industry and job creation. And congressional Republicans have cheered the administration on as it overhauls the way the government regulates the environment and the use and extraction of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

While the government is shut down, public hearings and commenting processes for some of the regulatory rollbacks have been halted, including for the Clean Water Rule, which vastly expanded federal authority over waterways and scheduled for March finalization, and a revision of an Obama administration's New Source Performance Standards, or NSPS, which sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new, modified and reconstructed energy facilities.

"The current government shutdown has caused the public hearing and comment process for the proposed NSPS update to be delayed," Michelle Bloodworth, chief operating officer at American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in an emailed response. "We are hopeful that once government funding is restored that the EPA will again move quickly to advance regulations that take into account the important role the coal fleet plays, including the NSPS proposal that will set standards for the next generation of coal plants."

The group advocates "at the federal and state levels on behalf of coal-fueled electricity and the coal fleet."

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