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Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule Wednesday replacing former President Obama's signature Clean Power Plan (CPP) with a far more modest version controlling carbon dioxide emissions from America’s coal plants.

The big picture: This fight, like many in Washington, is big on symbolism and lacking in substance. While it was supposed to help President Trump save the coal industry and gut the heart of his predecessor's climate agenda in one swoop, the reality tells another story.

Reality check: America's coal industry continues to decline, driven by a host of factors separate from the Obama-era regulation, largely — but not only — because plentiful supplies of natural gas provide power companies a cheap, cleaner-burning alternative.

  • Meanwhile, the CPP never actually went into effect, despite the hype from Obama administration officials and environmentalists. In an unusual move, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the final rule in February 2016 to let litigation play out.

Details: The rule aims to reduce power-plant CO2 emissions by as much as 35% below 2005 levels in 2030, according to the EPA, which said this decline is also due to "expected industry trends," highlighting the ongoing shift away from coal to natural gas and renewable energy — irrespective of both Obama's rule and Trump's efforts to repeal it.

  • Between the lines: The EPA's assessment is an implicit acknowledgement that its new rule isn’t going to bring back coal.
  • America's greenhouse gas emissions, like much of the rest of the world's, ebb and flow with economic growth and demand. After a marked decline due to the shift from coal to natural gas, which burns far less CO2 than coal, U.S. energy-related emissions are expected to decline again slightly in the coming years.

The intrigue: Myron Ebell, a top director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that disputes that climate change is a problem, said Wednesday that his group will likely sue EPA over the rule, arguing the law doesn’t allow such regulation on CO2.

  • Ebell, who was an adviser to the Trump transition team, said this would be the first lawsuit his group would file against Trump’s EPA, which has been mostly pushing policies Ebell supports.

What's next: Expect lawsuits from environmental groups and Democratic-led states. In other deregulatory news, EPA's other big controversial rollback — freezing Obama's auto efficiency standards — is expected soon.

Go deeper: The U.S. coal industry is choking

Go deeper

35 mins ago - World

U.K. prosecutors charge third person in poisoning of former Russian spy

Emergency services members in biohazard encapsulated suits encasing the poisoning scene in a tent in Salisbury, England, in March 2018. Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

U.K. prosecutors said they had enough evidence to charge Denis Sergeev, a member of the Russian military intelligence service, in the 2018 Salisbury nerve agent attack against a former Russian spy, according to AP.

Why it matters: Sergeev is the third person to face charges for the nerve agent attack against Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, both of whom survived.

1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: More boycotts coming for Facebook

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Leaders of the Stop Hate For Profit social media boycott group are discussing whether to organize another campaign against Facebook in light of an explosive investigative series from the Wall Street Journal, Common Sense CEO Jim Steyer tells Axios.

The intrigue: Sources tell Axios that another group, separate from the Stop Hate For Profit organization, is expected to launch its own ad boycott campaign this week.

Democrats' dwindling 2022 map

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats are trying to unseat only about half as many Republican House members next year as they did in 2020, trimming their target list from 39 to 21.

Why it matters: The narrowing map — which reflects where Democrats see their best chance of flipping seats — is the latest datapoint showing the challenging political landscape the party faces in the crucial 2022 midterms.