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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 32 mins ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

48 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.