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Image: Plant Scherer
Georgia Power's coal-fired Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga., on June, 3, 2017.Branden Camp / AP file

Why it matters that Trump's pollution plan just got upended in court

The ACE Rule was the centerpiece of Trump's climate, energy and deregulatory agenda. And as of this morning, it's dead.

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On his last full day in office, Donald Trump was handed one last court defeat, which will reverberate in an important ways for years. E&E News reported:

A federal appeals court this morning struck down the Trump administration's Clean Power Plan replacement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directed EPA to start over with a new regulatory approach after finding that the agency's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule failed to provide adequate environmental and public health protections.

Before considering the road ahead, it's worth pausing to reflect on how we arrived at this point.

As regular readers may recall, then-President Barack Obama first unveiled the details of his administration's Clean Power Plan in 2014, and it was a fairly ambitious policy intended to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. The Democratic White House set a goal of cutting emissions 30% by 2030.

As a candidate in 2016, Donald Trump promised to undo Obama's plan, and once in office, he unveiled a policy the Republican administration called the Affordable Clean Energy rule (or ACE Rule) in 2018. The policy wasn't subtle: Trump and his team set out to relax pollution rules, keep coal-power plants in business longer, and in the process, make the climate crisis worse.

The New York Times uncovered an especially pernicious detail, reporting that the "fine print" in the administration's new plan "includes an acknowledgment that the plan would increase carbon emissions and lead to up to 1,400 premature deaths annually."

This quickly became the centerpiece of the Republican White House's climate, energy and deregulatory agenda. And as of this morning, it's dead.

"The question in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted lawfully in adopting the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule), as a means of regulating power plants' emissions of greenhouse gases. It did not," the D.C. Circuit wrote in an unsigned opinion.

A Reuters report added that it was a unanimous ruling, "made by a three-judge panel comprised of two Democratic appointees and one Trump-appointed judge."

And while this is a heartening development for those who care about air quality and the climate crisis, Joe Biden and his incoming team have reason to be especially pleased -- not just because they disagreed with Trump's ACE Rule, but also because the Democratic administration expected to have to undo that rule through a time-consuming regulatory process.

Now, Team Biden will be able to craft its own environmental safeguards, thankful that a federal appeals court just made the task easier.