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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A big question now that EPA has finalized climate regulations for power plants is how much they'll constrain a future president — especially a potential Democrat that wants to act way more aggressively.

Driving the news: Yesterday EPA issued modest rules requiring state plans to make coal-fired units more efficient over time, but lacks binding CO2-cutting targets.

Why it matters: Achieving deep cuts will eventually require going beyond the power industry, where market forces are already shoving coal aside, as well as speeding up power-sector cuts.

  • Democratic White House hopefuls platforms call for steep economy-wide reductions, with some targeting net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.

The big picture: Yesterday's rule breaks with the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) that claimed far broader Clean Air Act powers to drive changes in electricity systems by giving states wide latitude to decide how to meet emissions requirements.

  • Trump officials, however, say the Clean Air Act imposes major limits on the breadth of their reach.
  • "Is EPA an energy regulatory authority? Absolutely not," a senior EPA official told reporters on a call.
  • "I don't see this as a scaling back. I see this as a correction," the official said in rolling out the current administration's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

What to watch: As the rule moves into litigation, look for whether the legal dust settles in a way that could....

  • Thwart a future EPA from seeking deeper and mandatory cuts from power plants and from using a so-called "outside the fence line" template like Obama's.
  • Set precedents that would also limit how regulators can attack other emissions sources, like refineries and manufacturing.

What they're saying: "EPA's narrow approach to the power sector rulemaking could pose hurdles to future regulation of other sectors under a differently minded future administration," the consultancy ClearView Energy Partners said in a note.

Michael Gerrard of Columbia Law School tells me a lot depends on how narrowly or broadly courts rule in upholding the Trump plan, if that's what happens. He writes via email...

"[I]f the courts take the occasion to opine more broadly on EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act, that could have broader impacts."
"[I]f the courts agree with the Trump EPA's analysis that reducing greenhouse gas emissions confers relatively small benefits, more explanation could be needed from a later EPA about the need for GHG regulation not just of power plants about also other sources."

Go deeper

Updated 8 mins ago - World

Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and planned to travel to another destination afterward when the gang abducted them in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.

43 mins ago - World

Melbourne, "world's most locked-down city," to lift stay-at-home orders

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Melbourne's stay-at-home orders will end five days earlier than planned, officials in Australia's second-biggest city announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The capital of the state of Victoria has had six lockdowns totaling 262 days since March last year. That means Melbourne's spent longer under lockdowns than "any other city in the world" during the pandemic, Reuters notes.

Venezuela suspends talks with opposition after Maduro ally extradited to U.S.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, in June. Photo: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key ally of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. Saturday to face money laundering charges in Florida, Bloomberg first reported.

Why it matters: Venezuela's government called off negotiations with opposition officials that were scheduled for Sunday in Mexico in response to the extradition of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and financial fixer for Maduro. Security forces placed six U.S. oil executives under house arrest later Saturday, per AP.