By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not decided whether it will replace the Clean Power Plan - the centerpiece Obama-era climate change regulation - after it moves to repeal it, according to a draft of the proposal seen by Reuters on Friday.
The effort to undo the rule aimed at cutting emissions from power plants forms part of a broader plan by the administration of President Donald Trump to revive the U.S. coal industry and boost domestic fossil fuels production.
In the 43-page document, the EPA said the Clean Power Plan (CPP) introduced by former President Barack Obama in 2015 was illegal. It aimed to cut emissions from utilities, the largest emitters of greenhouse gases blamed by scientists for climate change, by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
"Under the interpretation proposed in this notice, the CPP exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority and would be repealed," the proposal says.
The EPA said it has not yet determined whether or when it will propose a new rule to regulate emissions from existing power plants. But the agency said it will soon to release what it calls an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit information on a potential replacement nonetheless.
"We can’t comment on the authenticity of the document, but what we can say is that the Obama Administration pushed the bounds of their authority so far that the Supreme Court issued a stay – the first in history – to prevent the so-called ‘Clean Power Plan’ from taking effect," said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman.
The CPP had been challenged in court by 27 states after Obama’s administration launched it in 2015. It was suspended by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which set a deadline of Friday for a status report from the EPA on how it plans to proceed.
Reuters had reported earlier this week that the EPA planned to repeal the CPP and seek input for a possible replacement, the first formal step by the agency since Trump ordered it in March to review the regulation.
Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator under Obama who spearheaded the design of the CPP, said the repeal would represent a retreat from the "legal, scientific and moral obligation to address the threats of climate change."
In another move by the administration aimed at supporting coal, Energy Secretary Rick Perry last week asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to propose a plan to compensate coal and nuclear plants for their reliability to the grid.
In justifying the proposed repeal, the EPA said it found fault in the Obama administration's use of section 111 of the federal Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. It argues that the section can only be used to regulate a single source of emissions, but that the Clean Power Plan instead "encompassed measures that would generally require power generators to change their energy portfolios."
Industry groups welcomed news of an imminent repeal of the regulation.
"The Clean Power Plan represented an unlawful attempt to transform the nation’s power grid," said Hal Quinn, director of the National Mining Association lobby group.
David Doniger, climate program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the repeal would "leave millions of Americans in grave danger from extreme weather and other climate impacts."
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; editing by Grant McCool)