STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When EPA administrator Scott Pruitt took a step toward repealing President Obama's signature electric power plan, he was answering the call of the coal industry, among others. He announced that choice in the historic coal region of eastern Kentucky. President Obama viewed the Clean Power Plan as a way to cut back on carbon emissions, but some industry groups saw it differently and sued. Lawyer Jeff Holmstead represented one of the litigants, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
JEFF HOLMSTEAD: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So President Trump - we should be clear on this - campaigned on bringing back all the coal jobs. He was going to bring them all back. Is this decision, if it is finalized, going to bring all the coal jobs back?
HOLMSTEAD: Probably not. The economics of - of the energy business have changed. But this certainly would make a significant difference in terms of allowing states who want to have coal-fired power to continue to have it.
INSKEEP: If they want to have it. But the market reality that you just alluded to is that a lot of states, even a state like Kentucky, which is a coal state, they've been - they've been seeing power plants convert over to natural gas. It's cheaper.
HOLMSTEAD: Well, that - that's right. The combination of federal regulations and the price of - of natural gas really has caused a lot of plants to shift away from coal and towards national - natural gas.
INSKEEP: So - so what do you get out of the repeal of the Clean Power Plan if it - if it goes through?
HOLMSTEAD: Well, you - you certainly get a significant regulatory overhang away from the industry. You give them the certainty that going forward, as long as they use coal as - as efficiently as possible, they will continue to have the opportunity to stay in business. And - and that's a big change.
INSKEEP: So let me play a little bit of tape here because you just talked about uncertainty, and let's follow up on that. President Obama's EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, was on this program yesterday. Then last night she was on "PBS NewsHour," and she responded to this move to repeal the Clean Power Plan in part by saying this.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PBS NEWSHOUR")
GINA MCCARTHY: I was surprised that they decided to repeal the rule without proposing anything else because as the science dictates and as the law dictates, the EPA is obligated to regulate carbon pollution from this sector.
INSKEEP: So she says she's surprised there's not a replacement. Is she right that there's some uncertainty created here now because the Trump administration says it wants to get rid of the Clean Power Plan but they have to replace it with something?
HOLMSTEAD: There will - there will probably continue to be some uncertainty until - until Congress makes a decision about how to deal with these issues. And I think she's right. There probably will be some kind of replacement rule. What happened yesterday was just a proposal to repeal the rule that - that really was widely viewed as being unlawful under the Clean Air Act. You have to remember that even the Supreme Court stepped in to try to stop the Clean Power Plan, at least to put it on hold. So - so it was pretty widely expected that this rule would be repealed. But again, that doesn't answer the question that you ask, is what - what will come next, and we do expect...
INSKEEP: And the Supreme Court also ruled that it was OK for the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, which is why McCarthy is saying there's a legal obligation, your industry and other industries are going to face some legal obligation to deal with carbon pollution in some way.
HOLMSTEAD: And - and - and this industry and many other industries are dealing with carbon pollution. You - you also have to remember that the United States' power sector has reduced carbon pollution more than any - any part of the economy since 19 - since 2005. And in fact the United States has reduced carbon pollution more than any other country in the world since...
INSKEEP: I agree. And it's because of the rise of alternative energy sources, solar and wind, as well as natural gas, right?
HOLMSTEAD: Right. It's - it's because of a lot of reasons. And part of that is just the changing market dynamics, and that - and those dynamics have already made a significant difference in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
INSKEEP: Just - just to be clear and get this on the record because the president has at different times called climate change a Chinese hoax, does your industry group accept the science that climate change is real, significantly caused by people, dangerous enough to respond to?
HOLMSTEAD: Yes. I think that - that most everybody in the industry does accept that fact, and the real question is what's the best way to go about resolving it? And that's really what this - what this proposal yesterday is all about. We believe, I think, as (laughter), as at least a majority of the Supreme Court believe that what the Obama administration had done was unlawful, that it went well beyond what EPA was authorized to do under the Clean Air Act. And now the question is really how do we move forward in a way that does comport with the law?
INSKEEP: Jeff Holmstead, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
HOLMSTEAD: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: Jeff Holmstead is a lawyer. He worked in the EPA's Clean Air office under President George W. Bush and now represents energy companies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.