Clairton Coke Works.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its latest efforts to roll back emission standards for the fossil fuel industry.

The Affordable Clean Energy Rule, or ACE, will allow states to set their own emission standards for coal-fired power plants and undoes many regulations first imposed under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Likely to be affected is the Cheswick Generating Station on the Allegheny River, which was sued by the Sierra Club earlier this year for polluting the local environment.

“The ACE Rule replaced the prior administration’s overly prescriptive and burdensome Clean Power Plan (CPP) and instead empowers states, promotes energy independence and facilitates economic growth and job creation,” said the EPA in an announcement about the changes.

While exact details on the plan will not come for several months, local environmental groups are already weighing how best to respond to what they say is a grave threat to public health.

“We are disappointed in the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the Clean Power Plan, which would have been a responsible, cost-effective means of addressing global climate change,” says Neil Shader, press secretary for the PA Department of Environmental Protection. “DEP is currently reviewing the proposal to determine what steps Pennsylvania can take to continue our efforts to grow our energy economy and reduce emissions.”

Ashleigh Deemer, Western Pennsylvania director for PennEnvironment, said the proposal would be especially damaging for the Pittsburgh region. “We already have an air pollution problem in Pittsburgh,” she says. “In 2016 we had 97 days of unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution.”

Deemer says the new rules will make a dire situation even worse. “By the administration’s own analysis,” she says, the proposal “would cause 1,400 premature deaths per year.”

“This seems to be just the latest in a string of actions by the Trump administration that demonstrates that they don’t take climate change seriously,” says Steve Hvozdovich, PA campaigns director for Clean Water Action. “It’s a setback for addressing climate change and it’s also a setback for needing to diversify where we’re getting our energy sources from.”

The EPA will be holding a public comment period for the next 60 days before unveiling the final version of the proposal. While both PennEnvironment and Clean Water Action plan on registering their complaints with the EPA, they say their main focus will be mobilizing citizens at a local level.

In particular, Hvozdovich said they will be organizing activists and canvassers to support a bill introduced by State Senator and minority leader Jay Costa that would recommit the state to the standards of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

“One of the unique things at least in terms of Pennsylvania,” Hvozdovich says, “is that we do have potentially a stopgap here through legislation that Senator Costa has introduced.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.